Excusing Environments

28 July 2014

A recent study on adoption and suicide suggests genetic (biological) rather than environmental factors play a dominant role in risks for suicide.

Researchers used Danish adoption data and compared non-biologically related siblings of orphans (children who had been adopted and biologically related siblings that the orphan did not grow up with. Basically what they looked for were co-occurring pairs of suicide or non-suicide. [See the footnote for a descriptive example.][1] The researchers found the strongest association of co-occurring suicides in orphans and their (unknown) biologically related siblings.

The authors include some various caveats and methodological qualifiers you can read about for yourself in the cited study above. A most important factor, not mentioned in the study but confirmed in my correspondence with the lead researcher: none of the children studied were transnational orphans. Specifically, I asked, “Are these adoptees all domestic adoptions (meaning only of Danish, or Caucasian, children or not)?” And the reply was, “We looked only at Danish children, so ethnicity were the same for all of them.”[2]

This study accepts as a matter of course an elevated suicide risk for adopted orphans, but defenders of adoption will be glad to hear genetics play the dominant role. This, because it means that the orphan happened already to be prone to suicide—as the suicide of her or his (unknown) biologically related sibling suggests. An analogous anecdote: after I came out to my father, he eventually “got okay with it” when someone told him homosexuality is genetic: that explanation “let him off the hook”; me being gay “wasn’t his fault”. I’d expect the same stuff from parents of adopted orphans who commit suicide—the tragedy “isn’t their fault”.

One may also imagine, with a shudder, what sort of regimens might get implemented by adopting parents to ensure that the suicide time-bomb of their adoption might not go off. Or maybe opponents of adoption could use this result to frighten would-be adopters: “we don’t really know why, Mister and Missus, but orphans who get adopted are far more likely to kill themselves. Caveat emptor!” We might try to imagine what sort of bizarre “screening” process for orphans would be traffickers might develop to eliminate genetically proto-suicidal orphans.

Disregarding the methodological pitfall that insists a genetic/environmental dichotomy actually has useful explanatory power (I doubt it), what other problematic consequences do you see stemming from this finding? What sort of mechanism do you think explains the finding; for me since all of the children are domestic Danish orphans, to talk about “mere physical separation” as evidence of “environmental differentiation” within Denmark seems dubious. The absence of “non-Danish” orphans strikes me as very significant as well.



[1] To use me as an example: in my adoptive family, I have one sister who was also adopted and one brother who was not; I also have (presumably) biologically related siblings I don’t know. If I commit suicide and one of my adoptive-family siblings does, that argues positively for environmental factors (the study assumes). If I commit suicide and one of my (unknown) biological siblings does, that argues positively for genetic factors (the study assumes). If I do not commit suicide and one of my adoptive siblings does, this argues against environmental factors but does not therefore automatically support a genetic argument. And, finally, if I do not commit suicide, but my (unknown) biological sibling does, this also argues against the genetic explanation, but does not automatically provide evidence for the environmental explanation.

[2] There remains an ambiguity here. My own question inadvertently permits the conflation of nationality and ethnicity and the researcher’s reply assumes (or states as a fact) that all of the “Danish” children in the study were the same (Scandinavian) ethnicity.

As I plod slowly along on the slow trail of information-gathering to hunt down trails of my possible genetic origins through different genetic testing tools, I sometimes note an obnoxious petitioner’s syndrome that being adopted [1] can engender.

Petitioner’s syndrome points psychologically to having to address a greater power for essential information and structurally to working around the various social constructs that have sprung up to help and hinder individuals who cannot otherwise access that essential information.

In the case of adoption, this essential information points to stuff considered some of the most basic for the non-adopted: where did I come from; who are my relatives; what kind of health issues might I face, &c. The extremity and significance of this information exacerbates petitioner’s syndrome. It can make the adopted more circumspect in approach, sometimes sneaker—or at least they will feel they must be: precisely because so much seems at stake. A refusal to answer a petition likely has very wide-ranging consequences. As a result of this, structural features include predatory lawyers, kinder (but still expensive, sometimes) search angels, and various legalities (opened but still limited information about adoptions) and illegalities (bribery) that circumvent control over access to such information.

Petitioner’s syndrome manifests as when, having already sent off my DNA testing kit, I make up a story to my adoptive father about intending to test simply to provide me a pretext to ask him, once again, for any details he knows about my genetic contributors. As the only source of such information—whether his information is degraded by the passage of years or was ever true in the first place—I have to feel like I’ve created a circumstance for my asking that will elicit the actual best truth from him; I need a pretext to guarantee his honesty. Petitioner’s syndrome manifests structurally in the necessity of resorting to genetic testing in order to obtain information about one’s immediate family in the first place.

And it manifests in  a hybrid structural/psychological way there in that context while rummaging in the genetic testing communities as well. Having a higher than typical (for a Caucasian) contribution from sub-Saharan Africa, my roots, in the United States at least, apparently go back to a tri-racial group in West Virginia (and their descendants). An example shows how this raises the spectre of petitioner’s syndrome. One of the previously best-established genealogists from that population of this population (usually referred to as the Chestnut Ridge People) wrote his most famous book explicitly to deny all traces of African-American heritage in the lineages. (In fact, he adopts the classic dodge, one already well-established amongst the lineages he seeks to document: claiming to be colored, if at all, due to Native American inheritance, not African.) I have already been “warned” by one helpful person that there are people in these lineages who will still maintain this position. I’m fortunate she wasn’t one of them, or that door might have closed.

And so, though I feel honoured (like Pushkin) to have unambiguous and (in evolutionary terms) very recent African-American heritage in my familial past, not everyone I would contact in order to research that past will welcome my efforts. In fact, they might dead-end me. Hence, in my “public profile” (visible to everyone, even those I’m not “sharing” with), I removed the reference to my African-American heritage, reserving it only for my non-public (post-sharing) profile.

The underlying factor of petitioner’s syndrome concerns access to and control of information. The availability of genetic testing allows me to re-contextualise my adoptive parents’ monopoly on birth narratives about me (whether true, false, or indifferent); it permits me to say, “They told you I’m Irish, German, and Welsh. So far, that seems to be true. But I’m also African-American.” Similarly, my petition to the State of Washington for my original birth certificate permits me to say to any that would deny my origins, “No, in fact I am your relative, are we’re part Black.”

Of course, access to adoption records in Washington state (a recent development) points to an increase of social justice precisely because it removes the monopoly the state had on control over that information. It modifies the structural aspects, such as predatory lawyers (or kinder, but expensive) search angels who can bribe or steal their way through the system to uncover this information, because now the path to the information is less blocked.

Any political position about adoption justice, if we must suffer it to exist at all, would therefore seem to demand the elimination of petitioner’s syndrome, psychologically and structurally. One example of this: every adoption must be explicitly and permanently open.


[1] It may have been noted, I refer to “adoptees” as “orphans” now. The orphan is the one who is adopted, remembering that not all orphans get adopted: some get fostered, some die, some commit suicide, some run away, &c. Orphans who must ask others for information about origins will likely wind up in a “petitioner’s syndrome” scenario, but for now at least, I’m proposing that the syndrome arises structurally from adoption.

Having lately resorted to genetic testing to uncover my immediate genetic family, I confront therefore the panoply of folks, mostly not adopted, who are on a similar (but different) quest for their origin.[1]

Compared to whatever conceits are at work in the efforts of committed and serious genealogists, the amateurish, armchair types—the ones who causally claim descent from Napoleon or Cleopatra or Ireland—present a different picture. Most don’t seem to have the patience or wherewithal to do the necessary work to ferret the details out. Genetic testing companies give the impression, “Just do the test and your family tree will spring up before your eyes.” Not so. Consumers instead receive some vague pronouncement like “you’re 89% European” and that’s where it stops.

Notwithstanding the difficulty of making this result mean something more specific, I wonder why genetic testing has emerged particularly as a tool for hooking into a human curiosity about one’s origin, especially in the United States. I think there are several factors.

First, of course, advertising and hype help bolster the market for it. Second, to the extent that “white” people are coming to realize that “white” is not a race and that people of “ethnicities” have all kinds of cool or neat “roots,” this helps to drive home the realization, “Oh, maybe I have roots. Wait. What are my roots.” In a place like England or the Czech Republic, not only is a much vaster amount of genealogical information already readily available (if one “does the work” or simply “consults the book”), one’s “ethnic” descent is already much more likely to be obvious: i.e., plainly I’m English, or Irish, or Scottish—probably a bit muttishly so, but to whatever degree I claim “white” this maps almost immediately onto “Irish” or whatnot. Not so in the United States. Third, then, the history of massive immigration, a subsequent mass history of interbreeding, and a complex (often taboo or denied) history of intermingling with Native Americans, imported slaves, and the various immigrant groups makes it pretty much impossible to make “white” overlap on any precise, non-concatenated ethnic designation. Fourth, this itself makes people in the United States prone to the equation “white” = “American” as a default. And, fifth, once you realize or decide that won’t cut it, finding ones “roots” becomes a tasty prospect. All of this would seem to increase the likelihood of the popularity of genetic testing in the United States.

But then, how does this support the State’s interests?

Significantly, the FDA intervened to prevent one testing company from providing “health reports”. Why doesn’t matter so much as far as this post is concerned, except to note that the State did not also feel any need to prohibit “genealogy hunting” or “origins curiosity” via genetic testing.

This connects to issues for orphans because, in historical legal terms, the “health issue” argument has very often been used successfully to force States to open adoption records. Even now, in different states, a record might be opened for the sake of “health information” although often with the caveat that “identifying information” may be excluded at the parents’ request. In some cases then, the strategic pretext of using “health issues” to uncover “one’s origins” got worked-round by the State and fell short of the “real” goal: answering the question, “who are my parents?”

In the United States, for many people, their citizenship appears in the hyphen, i.e., I’m Irish-American. If “white” = “American” ultimately doesn’t cut it for someone then the addition of a hyphen helps “fix” citizenship. Moreover, realizing I’m Romanian-American, for instance, doesn’t transfer my allegiance to Romania but rather to other Romanian-Americans living in the United States. And this particular urge, at least when it shows up in “white” populations (I’m suggesting), occurs due to the vast and nearly total destruction of sociability that the neoliberal state has been working on for the last 40 years with such dogged insistence. Thus, as “society” disintegrates around people, leaving them more and more wondering at a fundamental level “who am I?” (and in a context where “I’m an American” has for some disintegrated to the point of vacuity), then genetic testing permits offers a “patch” in the addition of a hyphen (a minus sign?), so that White=American becomes Irish-American, or whatnot. The typographical change alone is fascinating.

So for the orphan who is adopted, as one of the rootless persons par excellence, the offer of genetic testing for “origins” has a different flavour, especially in transnational cases. A transnational adoptee from Korea, for instance, would seem more properly an American-Korean than a Korean-American; or perhaps even more simply, a displaced Korean. There was never any white=American equation in the first place for an “origin” from genetic testing to provide its hyphen (or minus sign). But even for a domestic adoption: confirmation that I’m “Welsh” doesn’t make me Welsh-American; it makes me Welsh. And, in fact, that matches exactly the already extent origin story; my adoptive parents told me, “You’re Irish, German, and Welsh,” even though I was born in the United States. My status as an “American” never got asserted by anyone. For me, to be told by genetic testing “You’re Welsh” does, in fact, transfer my national allegiance to Wales, or at least intervenes that move as a step on the way to redefining this whole mess, “I’m Welsh-American (also).”

The adopted orphan has historically been able to demand the State relinquish its monopoly on access to health information, and the State has at times done so, but often without disclosing the birth parents. Whatever factors are in play that make an orphan’s petition “I want to know about my health” persuasive to the State, they must not arise simply by virtue of the request itself, since (1) some orphan petitions get denied and (2) the State directed at least one genetic testing company to stop making health information readily available. However, to the extent that “health information” is simply one strategy and pretext an orphan may resort to in pursuit of the “real” question (“who are my parents?”), we have not seen (that I can tell) any State intervention to prevent that use for genetic testing companies.

More precisely, it’s very unlikely simply to stumble across your parents; they would have had to have tested as well at the same site you did. And sifting through the morass of relatedness to figure out family trees simply from your shared genetic information alone is a daunting task that will dissuade most from the attempt. So we might say the State doesn’t really “care” if we stumble across such people; whatever protection of their privacy the State affects (in allowing “non-identifying information” to be disclosed in the interest of an orphan’s “health questions”), genetic testing simply becomes a most recent means (along with search angels, private investigators, and perhaps sometimes genealogists, depending upon how much you know) for hunting down one’s genetic contributors.

Meanwhile, just as “health details with non-identifying information” evades or dodges the orphans “real” desire about “origins” (“who are my parents”), the vague offer of “origins” that genetic testing makes available (to everyone) similarly evades or dodges that “real” desire as well, if mostly only by accident. Still, it shows, in the way that it transforms White=American into Ethnicity-American, a useful function for the State, by “cementing” allegiance to one’s sense of citizenship (as an Ethnicity-American)—a function not available, by genetic testing, to the orphan. That is, those people who feel rootless in our current neoliberal wasteland may find succour or consolation by the “patch” of a hyphen provided by genetic testing. Such “rooted” individuals will supply more (quantitatively and qualitatively) docile bodies, in Foucault’s sense, vis-à-vis the State.

All of this was inspired by the question whether we participate in the means of our oppression (as orphans) when we petition for information about our origin. In the case of genetic testing, we see that whatever tool it offers, its usefulness will be more through our work and our alliances with other people (indirectly related to us). The “health issue” has been Federally shut down, and the “vague origins” issue cannot serve as a “patch” or “fix” (unless I agree, rather unconvincingly, that I should call myself, for instance, Welsh-American).

To the extent then that genetic testing does not meet our needs as we want them met, to rely upon it makes it always a second-best, at best. Still useful, perhaps, but it’s worth thinking, contrarily, that unlimited open adoptions are more on point, both for cases from the past and as a feature for all future ones.


[1] Established lineages, in point of fact, matter only to aristocrats, because it is by them that disputes about succession get determined. This matter touches upon everyday folks where issues of property come into play (succession writ small) so it is no surprise that records like tax rolls become such key documents (along with birth, marriage, and death records) in genealogical research. But I will simply state bluntly that most seriously committed genealogists (of non-famous families) do so in imitation of aristocrats. I oversimplify, of course, but it boils down to something like familial vanity to generate the sort of depth for one’s family tree normally reserved for aristocrats.

Manifold disclosures about the unethical and immoral practices of those trafficking in human children now make clear the systemic, not merely idiosyncratically aberrant, character of those ethical and moral violations. [1]

For instance, my adoptive parents paid for a white baby, but they didn’t get one—as 10.4% of my genetic heritage makes clear in its tracing back to sub-Saharan heritage. Had I been born back in West Virginia among my historical people, I’d’ve been labelled “colored” which would have been as fine for me there as here now.

However, my adoptive parents’ reasons (or worse, their feelings) for seeking adoption matters less in this analysis than the structural existence of the means that manufactured their desire to adopt. And just as the history of international adoption from Korea makes abundantly clear, the “back-end” of that process discloses a veritable shit-storm of contradictions to the “front-end” discourse of family building, love (feeling in general), &c. Whether my Hispanic (i.e., Spanish and Apache) adopted father, who had married a Caucasian woman (herself adopted), explicitly wanted a “white” baby or not, that was what the system claimed to parcel out in general.

The resort to international adoption must have numerous influencing factors,[2] but if we stay with an eye on the domestic market, then clearly “babies who can pass as white” will be a desirable, though maybe not plentiful, part of that market. From a student’s thesis about the Chestnut Ridge people (“my people”) that I read recently, the author carefully allowed the social construct of race (rather than any genetic basis) to direct her analysis. In other words, people who outside of their local, historical context would not have been called “colored” were labelled as such. The author examines the tax rolls and shows how tax roll personnel would actually change the racial designation of people over the years; people previously “white” would become some category of “colored” (and then might, in the future, return to “white” again). These changes were, in part, due to increasing paranoia by Caucasians about race; so much so that such “colored” people by the 1930s had a whole repertoire of denials (specifically about African origins), even though their own ancestors had unabashedly and openly practiced interracial life-making.

Poverty—all the more so when imposed systematically—manufactures orphans, and the area my people come from continues to be poor; in West Virginia, one county away from one of the loci of the Chestnut Ridge people, is the poorest county in that second poorest state in the national (second only to Mississippi). Thus, it comprises structurally a fertile ground out of which would be generated adoptable babies, i.e., apparently white ones. This will become even truer for those who left the area. As the thesis author notes, people unmistakably white in appearance were labelled “colored” (by tax assessors) simply by association, by the historically known cohabitations and associations that had begotten various “white” individuals.

Since the most famous genealogist of this group from that group set out to rigorously expunge from his lineage’s history all trace of African origin, his relocation to Spokane, Washington—I mean, his birth amongst descendants who had previously moved away from an area where their heritage was well-known—suggests that relocation for the sake of being “mistaken” for white might well have been a motive.[3] Structural features or forces like this help, then, to create (one of the many pools) of “acceptably white” babies that might supply the adoption industry domestically.

This shows how my adoptive father got defrauded and thus the fraudulence of the system generally all over again (if such proof is necessary). I do not propose this “revolutionizes” any understanding of systemic adoption, but rather fills in yet another niche (that I or we might have guessed existed, even evidence for it had not surfaced yet). Structurally, I think this discloses something that genetic testing is “good” for for orphans. Personally, it means that my awkwardness (as a “white guy participating here”) was misplaced; I might have suspected all along.[4]


[1] Once one assumes a demand exists, then no means to supply that demand gets taken off the table—only whether or not certain means remain publicly acknowledged or not. But even here, the distinction between heinously outright theft, dispossession, coercion, lying, or mere purchase of infants (i.e., the deliberately literal creation of orphans) by “individuals” contrasts with the “accidental creation” of orphans by structural features (like war, economically predatory international trade agreements, globalization, &c) only in degree. It echoes the observation: kill two people, you’re a murderer; kill 200,000, that’s foreign policy. And while it can be difficult to detect the “structural” element at work in the “individual” behaviour of the serial murderer or child-trafficker, this therefore requires simply more attention to those structural features, not any easier or lazier resort to “individual” explanations. So long as we talk about what individuals do, we implicitly argue that the fault lies with the practitioners of the structure, not the structure itself.

[2] I think it would be very interesting to study how Korean (or perhaps Asian) babies came to be a valid market product. I recently read a dissertation that traced the origin and rise of “fertility reduction programs” (aka “family planning), which found their first large-scale experimentation and implementation in Taiwan in 1963. While reading it, resonances between the “problem of fertility” and adoption (from Korea) tantalized me.

[3] I’m not blaming anyone for that motive, but the genealogist’s efforts to falsify his family history suggests perhaps he’d’ve done better to abandon the project.

[4] And happily something only ever in my head. No one ever made me feel unwelcome.

NOTE: this is Volume I of what is left of Ehlich Odr’s (1792) text; the remaining volumes will follow. For a fuller explanation of the deletions by the current edition’s editor, see here; the following explains the matter briefly and why there are square brackets in the text:

I have spared readers of this current volume the worst, and even the middle-worst, of Odr’s peregrinations. Most of it I have sliced off without a word; at times, I offer summaries in square brackets to account for what gratuitous material Odr supplies that he refers to as his text rambles on. The single largest of these omissions is his Self-Introduction, of course, which runs 83 pages in the original edition—one-sixth of volume 1 itself, in fact—and so we pick up in media res on page 84.

The Ghrü: Observations on A New & Curious Phenomenon (vol. 1)


Thus you may see from this self-introduction, which I trust my readers will forgive me for omitting portions of as either too irrelevant or too delicate or too personal, whether for myself or on the part of those others I hold dear in intimate terms or stand obligated professionally as a matter of ethics or decorum (or both!) not to make public what I have neither the compunction nor the permission—nor the inclination it must be said—to make public or to divulge or to disclose for reasons of principle or out of that font of wisdom that is our nation’s great and most civilising of mores, you will no doubt then have had coloured your lively understanding and impression as to why I will have undertaken this study of such a new and curious phenomenon as I set out it before you in brief within this volume, but none of this will make clear either the purpose of my study, much less its contents. Sheer honesty [a wealth of classical examples to justify painstaking forthrightness about making one’s motivations for doing anything as unambiguous as possible to others] demanded that I disclose all that I have, but even the gods cannot be infinitely scrupulous, and with each moment that passes, we are no longer ourselves. Already, even as we fancy we venture into an ever more lucid and lurid of light, our shadow lengthens behind us as a trace of our change, so that we must look back to understand in the first place at all, and thus lose the view where we were going. One wonders what cure might be found for this calamity of divided attention, that our minds might not be two places at once, in two states (that we are aware of!).

[A digression examining attention, self-consciousness, and the Unconscious, with a digression on dogs and their colours.]

Do not despair, sweet Reader and friend, though I see I’ve spent already half a ream in scribbling, I intend not to defer forever an approach to my subject (not even till volume II), but only to make what preliminaries the subject requires. I might simply have said “dogs are loyal” and perhaps that would have been enough for some. But the history of domestication [and of husbandry more generally, including the domestication of plants, which includes the various techniques of grafting, so dissimilar in most ways from gem-grafting and demonic moulding] makes clear two facts as regards what I intend to call the ghrü: (1) they are not dogs; (2) not all dogs are loyal; and (3) loyalty may not be a quality of ghrü.

I draw my observation from my time in the Dark, the history of which place [retold with an astonishing degree of inaccuracy] is not well known to me. It was there I made my first observation of a ghrü: approximately four inches tall, of a rubbery, greyish texture and colour, and shaped like a mound of dog scat, or perhaps a Hut. To my chagrin, I believed it to have dropped from, or to have deposited by, the anal opening of the unfortunate creature just before me—green, misshapen, and not unlike an uncanny a cross between a kobold and an orc.[1] To my even greater chagrin, my hail to this unfortunate inspired a quick retreat, but it was the fact that its faecal deposit uncrossed legs and went scampering after it that gave me the greater start.

Baffled, I consulted all I knew about the alimentation of kobolds and orcs alike. [A digression on (1) eating, digestion, and de-fecation, in particular as expressed (2) in small and medium humanoids, orcs and kobolds specifically, followed by (3) a survey of the available literature, scant, on sentient scat, and so (4) speculation on the same without any constraint on the discussion.] But I had to admit, given all we know in this regard, which is to say very little—next to nothing—I had to confront the realization that the little creature that followed did not originate in the bowels of the beleaguered “cork”, may not, in fact, have originated with him at all. And moreover, in that respect—and not entirely without giving me some relief—was not some animate form of dropping after all.

You might well imagine my wonder at the thought, but there is no need, for I shall tell you. [A description follows of the next several weeks, meticulously detailed—including at one point a passage where the number of salt grains at a meal spilled are enumerated.] But none of this mattered the least when I encountered my second ghrü. This one, in seeming isolation, rather a darker shade of grey, and so more difficult to see against the background of the Dark. It also seemed larger and less faecal, and not simply due to my already greater familiarity with its form. I recognised it immediately by its round, gold eyes without pupils, and inevitably I deceived myself at first that this was, in fact, the first ghrü all over again, though perhaps more grown up, or just fatter. [A very, very long enumeration of things the ghrü might have eaten, or consumed, or ingested, or taken into itself by means analogous to, but not exactly like, alimentation—rambling speculations about what this might consist of follow.] Subsequent observations would disprove all of this, but I leave that to its own proper space in the volumes.

[Over the next 89 years, 16 more ghrü were encountered—each described in decreasingly minute detail,[2] and accompanied, after the ninth specimen, with mathematical fitting curves—based on no discernible mathematical theory anyone knows—to explain “and even one day, I dare to hope, predict” when the next ghrü would appear.]

As one may see from the evidence, however, the concept of a rate of ghrüness is in need of further study. I have sought, with what resources I have at my disposal, to find a correlation between the second, minute, hour, day, week, day of week, month, day of month, phases of the moon (using various planets), seasons (in systems from one to nineteen), years, decades, and scores—scores of years being the highest denominator in my 89 years of observation—and while the temptation lingers to triumphantly declare, “I have found the pattern!” so far the next appearance of a ghrü in each case has made playful mockery of my—and my formulae’s—power of prediction.

My Reader may rest assured that I have no intention to stop investigating this curious phenomenon, and I am certain that more ghrü will appear—more properly, that I shall encounter more as I wander in the Dark, but for now, in as much as this volume runs to nearly 800 pages, I find its sheer weight inhibits my ability to travel. Plus, if my vanity be forgiven, I am keen to find a publisher for this first volume. And so, for now, I stop.


[1] I later learned, not to my amusement, that these unfortunate creatures are often teased as “corks” apparently because they whine a great deal.

[2] It will be thought, in view of my claim for the empirical utility of Odr’s book, that I have erred seriously in skipping over these minutely detailed descriptions; see, however, Odr’s realization at the beginning of volume 2, if you seek an explanation. [editor's note]


Ehlich Odr’s (1792) Observations on A New & Curious Phenomenon by now most certainly occupies that most questionable of intellectual positions: “of historical interest only.” It was both sooner and later thoroughly surpassed by other amateur work, like Brüxzel’s (1805)[1] Exonoölogy and el-Shadr’s famously wry (1923)[2] The Pincushion of Conscience, as well as later specialists and experts alike, especially Su Yi’s (1911)[3] “Chromotopes of the Ghrü” and Minnestraller Ajuch’s work generally, most of all her monumental (1933) Ghrü: an Anatomy, which still serves as the most basic textbook and an on-going source of delight, insight, and discovery for students new and established.

It is almost no exaggeration, in fact, to say that Odr’s work does little more anymore than to give us that preposterous spelling for the ghrü that we have all since inherited and which no amount of disciplinary debate and pearl-clutching can apparently dislodge or change. For the most protracted, convulsive, and inconclusive of such debates, one should consult Habermach and Möl, as adroitly summarised by Develoux et al. (2012)[4] and Okun, Verma, Mitchell, and Flowerdew (1997),[5] respectively.

Why then, short of one more gesture of that sort of institutional perpetuation long since a necessary staple in all market-driven university systems, should we suffer our libraries’ already over-stuffed shelves to be burdened yet again by yet again another edition of Odr’s often wrong, and even frightfully wrong, and stumbling guesswork? The answer is blunt and simple, and it is not—as some wayward scholars[6] who have strayed out of their pen to pen even less well-informed hackwork than Odr’s original have insisted—because Odr’s texts offers in spades all the pleasures of desire and blindness. Most assuredly, it does not; rather, it is clunky, garishly rambling, and usually simply lost. But it also does at least offer—unlike all of the most-publicised current research on the ghrü since Arididea’s (1976)[7] “The Death of the Critic(al)” and subsequent (1981)[8] “Postpartum/Postmortem”—actually empirical observations on the ghrü as a phenomenon; that is, rather than talking about how we talk about the ghrü, and thus never saying anything whatsoever about the phenomenon itself, Odr at least gives us—sometimes perspicaciously, frequently ludicrously, but always empirically—actual evidence and data about the ghrü itself/themselves. In these days where the fashion prevails for models of models—if not models of models of models—simply to turn our discipline’s omphaloskeptic gaze from its lint-riven navel and back outwards again (if, at the worst, toward an illusion of the) real offers such a necessary and useful correction these days that even a text as faulty as Odr’s serves good purpose.

The temptation arises to take issue with the quality of the current debate that results from this. After all, Ajuch’s work still rests as the cornerstone of the discipline, but careful readers of the Journals have already long noted—and it has been pointed out many times (Airhihenbuwa & Webster, 2004; Douine, Bouchaud, Moro, Baubet, & Taïeb, 2012; Hagopian, Thompson, Fordyce, Johnson, & Hart, 2004)—that the valence (if not also usually the precision) of Ajuch’s terminology has been turned on its head. Moreover, as Ellis (1989), Graff (1983), and Eagleton (1984) all make clear in their different ways, the specific need and necessity in current critical fashion quite literally requires the exasperated response of an unfavourable critic even to exist. This, because the new critical method is neither new, critical, or methodological, so that it is only by the construction of a position by an exasperated commentator that the new critics even have one. Consequently, to address the models of modelling models (or, alternatively, the frames for framing framings) keeps us off the topic that Odr, albeit sometimes with rigorously dogged stupidity, keeps his attention on. That topic being, of course, the ghrü.

Nothing else needs be said in this Preface but this. Most within the discipline only know of Odr’s work, paying lip service in literature reviews about the “founder of the discipline” (which is false) or the “earliest student of the phenomenon” (which is falser). Meanwhile, few have read it, and one can hardly blame them. And while this must normally affect a fatal critical flaw—as we see in Lentricchia’s complete failure to grasp Arididea’s misunderstanding of Saussure’s thesis, system, or details—in Odr’s case, his text is so meandering, is so frequently diffuse and seemingly lost in its own miasma, that it crosses the border into cruelty to ask anyone interested in the ghrü to pole the gondola of their reading through the verbal morass of its swamp, only to arrive at an uninteresting oasis of sand with one rather tawdry dandelion of germane observation growing there.

Accordingly, I have spared readers of this current volume the worst, and even the middle-worst, of Odr’s peregrinations. Most of it I have sliced off without a word; at times, I offer summaries in square brackets to account for what gratuitous material Odr supplies that he refers to as his text rambles on. The single largest of these omissions is his Self-Introduction, of course, which runs 83 pages in the original edition—one-sixth of volume 1 itself, in fact—and so we pick up in media res on page 84. Throughout, moreover, I make no attempt to tabulate the pages of this present volume with any previous one, original or derivative. And this does raise a second, more precious, justification for the present volume: to restore Odr’s original text, however admittedly awful it is most of the time, and to reclaim it therefore from the scholars, bureaucrats, and occasionally the certifiably insane scribblers who have granted themselves the kindly license to do Odr the favour of correcting him.

Let me be clear. I never—or at best only extremely rarely—indicate in the text anyplace where my deletions occur. This I do in part to avoid any risk towards the extinction of all dragonkind for wearing out every available fang-nib inserting ellipses into Odr’s text but also for the reason that those familiar with the text, at least by weight, will note how seamlessly the text actually flows despite the deletion of whole sentences, paragraphs, chapters, or even scores of pages at a time.

If some commentators would insist that I commit the same error as the scribblers in my restoration of Odr’s own words—albethey stripped of their context—rather than offering my own paraphrase of the gobbledygook that his text entirely consists of, then I would say not only that such chatterers are wrong but that they have thereby also shown that characteristic lack of critical acumen too common these days. For one would have to get quite a bit deeper into the thicket of the intentional fallacy and the meaning-generative mechanisms of texts to make identical a text’s redaction by an editor, on the one hand, and its reinvention in a paraphrase on the other.

To dilettantes and professional whack-jobs, however, I leave the absurd task—taken up with such enthusiasm of late by certain elements within our discipline—of insisting, against all reason and plausible argument, that Odr’s text only attains not just its fullest, but its truest, extent of meaning when considered in its entire whole: as when, for example, Pith, Lepizzera, Lhommeau, Dilger, and Lambla (1997) connect Odr’s misinformed ramblings about latex paint as illuminating his remarks on the surface structure of ghrü, or the transcendental immanence (the phrase is not mine) that Pepperberg (1987) proposes—admittedly and thankfully only in passing—between Odr’s incorrect etymology for ghrü from “grey” and his apodictic ejaculations about prunes and varieties of prune trees. Such intellectual contortionism seems not only unnecessary and not even wrong, but a positively undesirable form of misdirection for any study of the ghrü. It goes without saying—and so these days must be said: if one’s theory of meaning insists anything can mean anything, then everything also means nothing and it would behove one to shut up.

On the other hand, for those who would bemoan my deletion of those few, precious, and unfortunately far too irrelevant passages that in the text become, under the vast and heavy pressure of its greater inertness, jewel-like in their lustre—or perhaps it would be more fair to say that Odr sometimes buries a gem in his dung heap—I justify my deletion in two ways. First, such gems must be the true reward only of those who not only have hazarded the whole dung heap itself to find them, but must also have found them—apologies in advance for the metaphor—principally and only by having swallowed the dung heap whole and experienced the pain (quite inevitable) arising from the passing of that precious gemstone. The second reason is less romantic. Such lucider passages should not be remain in the narrow covers of this volume, for their sheer presence—princess and the pea-wise—would do the reader the disservice of creating a markedly better and altogether wrong impression of the value of Odr’s work in toto.

In brief, I assert something better than “no harm” befalls a reader’s understanding in an edition truncated in this way. One gets the boon of no needless encumbrances by cutting out of the text its dead flesh—if not also the often egregiously undead or altogether still too proliferating living flesh. This leaves, as you may already perceive, a very slender volume, but this not only recommends itself in an era without attention but also presents, perhaps for the first time, what remains still the most recommendable part of Odr’s book: his empirical observations on the ghrü. If nothing else, this edition provides in Odr’s approach (however badly he executed it) a model for a much needed habit, now well out of practice in our own disciplinarians: the habit of actually looking at what one would study, rather than a drawing of it or an abstract about it.


[1] In J. Munby (ed.) (1981). Communicative syllabus design: A sociolinguistic model for designing the content of purpose-specific language programmes, pp. 13–107. Braggdrigé University Press.

[2] Ibid., pp. 108–252.

[3] Appendix C in Ndiaye, P. (2008). La condition ghrü: essai sur une minorité française, pp. 547–91. Calmann-Lévy.

[4] Develoux, M., Le Loup, G., Dautheville, S., Belkadi, G., Magne, D., Lassel, L., . . . Pialoux, G. (2012). [Malaria among immigrants, experience of an urban hospital (2006-2010)]. Bulletin de la Societe de pathologie exotique (1990), 105(2), 95-102.

[5] In Okun, N., Verma, A., Mitchell, B. F., & Flowerdew, G. (1997). Relative importance of maternal constitutional factors and glucose intolerance of pregnancy in the development of newborn macrosomia. J Matern Fetal Med, 6(5), 285-290. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6661(199709/10)6:5<285::AID-MFM9>3.0.CO;2-C

[6] Miller, J. H. (1987). How we ghrü: the triumph of theory, the resistance to reading, and the question of the material base. Publications of the Modern Language Association of Thither, 125(2), 281–291.

[7] Arididea, J. (1976). The death of the critic(al): mesotēs, energeia, and alētheia. Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy, 11(2), 409-420.

[8] Arididea, J., Baines, C. P., Kaiser, R. A., Purcell, N. H., Blair, N. S., Osinska, H., Hambleton, M. A., . . . Dorn, G. W. (2005). Postpartum/postmortem: loss of cyclophilin D reveals a critical role for mitochondrial permeability transition in cell death. Nature, 434(7033), 658–762.

[9] I later learned, not to my amusement ,that these unfortunate creatures are often teased as “corks” apparently because they whine a great deal.

[10] It will be thought, in view of my claim for the empirical utility of Odr’s book, that I have erred seriously in skipping over these minutely detailed descriptions; see, however, Odr’s realization at the beginning of volume 2, if you seek an explanation.

[11] Hanbeyoğlu, A., Kazez, A., Üstündağ, B., & Akpolat, N. (2011). Determination of urinary N-acetyl-β-D glucosaminidase (NAG) levels in experimental blunt renal trauma. Ulus Travma Acil Cerrahi Derg, 17(6), 475-481.

[12] Lem, S. (1970). Solaris. 1961. Trans. Steve Cox and Joanna Kilmartin. New York: Hartcourt Brace.

I compose these notes to fit the mind of the student for whom I intend them.This is part 3; you may find parts 1-3 here, here, and here, respectively; parts 4-6 are here, here, and here, respectively; part 7 is here. I include the introduction from part 1 again below.

For those more or less advanced, there may seem much that digresses or states things too succinctly. I believe one may still find value in reading these notes, even for those not the student in question. In those places where things seem too much elaborated, I apologise that my student’s frame of mind overtaxes yours. And where things move too quickly, I can only suggest immersing yourself in the more elemental or basic texts that address the matters at hand.

Also, I use past and present conjugations of the verb “to be” under protest. You should imagine every occurrence in quotation marks; typographical preciousness prevents me from indulging this visually.


No system, however imperfect, contains errors.

Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but instead in the nature[1] of omniscience.

However, given that adding manpower to a late project makes it later, we may understand then not only:

  • that the reproduction of the world—understood in its broadest and narrowest senses—puts off the end of the world, but also
  • that the elaboration of a trinary (or greater) logic can only paper over, sometimes very cleverly or intriguingly, the abyss that binary logic (or dichotomous thinking generally) opens up.

Let us take some steps to move beyond this.

Conclusions: Observations on Observers

I feel like at this point some sort of apologetics for Observers might be cried for from certain quarters. Here we set out to find a way free of any determination at all, and instead I prove to the world that all that exists only has existence because of Observers. In some places, you can see that the Observation is very partial: incomplete buildings, half-formed personalities, everything seem dim, fuzzy, vague—it seems almost more half-destroyed than half-observed. But since we wouldn’t have existence without Observers, that we can complain about them is a sign of our blessedness, to put it foolishly. It represents an inexcusable biomorphism to accuse Observers in such a fashion—we can only project our own Reality upon them, and then browbeat them for our own limited Consciousness on the point.

I will put it as plainly as I can. Observers are the Encoding. I really don’t know that we might imagine them more usefully, if we’re going to talk about them at all. And by an Encoding, we must remember (again) that it represents an embodiment of an Encoder’s declared desire. This makes us no mere playthings, as the Puppet Theorist insist so ill-temperdly, but in one sense the ghighest hopes, the vastest wishes, the most profound expressions, and a lot more similar hyperbole for them. Nor must we take this as a high compliment, just because they value us so much that they have Encoded a Reality where they might Observe us.

Almost none of Reality bears even a slight trace of Observation, and so it only possesses Being, not Existence. In banal, simplistic terms, this means that 99.99% of the time, if we are determined by anything, then we have no way of even discerning what it would be, and so our lack of knowledge spares us the agony of the dilemma. Problem (almost entirely) solved. Of course, the Artist is an interloper in the more negative sense, a psychic parasite, because his presence is destructive and awful for those who wish to be spared it. And for those who object to Observers—appreciating all the while that it is only because they have an Observer that such an objection may even be framed—the quality of psychic parasitism differs enough that the term commensalism seems more appropriate. While a parasitic relationship describes a symbiosis where the parasite destroys or woefully degrades its host, in commensalism the symbiotic relationship provides a benefit at least to one while not harming the other.

By symbiotic relationship is meant narrative relationship.

This much wider field of consideration involving Observers complicates to a large extent any desire to be free from determination, especially with the realization that 99.99% of the time we are but that the 0.01% matters to an overwhelming degree. However, the bulk of what was summarized earlier as insights gleaned in this essay for freeing oneself from determinations by the Artist may apply here, more or less, as well. Specifically, we err if we imagine we encounter Observers; I believe, rather, based upon my own observations that what we encounter as Observers (or the presence of Observers) is co-terminal if not identical with the Encoding. And everything I’ve said—plus others who’ve written on the topic—makes clear that we may directly intervene into the Code. This is not to say that we can only “hack” it; Chaos Mages and others can fiddle with this past the end of time, but it all will still be within the field of what the Encoding determines. Rather, we can “crack” the Encoding using the neither-nor, opening an orienting window where Time must then be frozen to permit an infinitely detailed examination of the Encoding itself for the traces of the Declaration and Desire written into (encoded) in it.

Such a technique can only have—if we speak in terms of “physics”—a “local effect,” i.e., on the one who cracks and adapts the Encoding for personal use. And the attempt is not without considerable danger because, in effect, one creates in this way a solipsistic Reality—and that, obviously, will absolute partition you off from Reality and you won’t know you’re inside it and no one will be able to reach you from the outside, if they even can discover the realization that you’re not locatable. To negotiate “across” this solipsistic barrier requires (it seems) exactly the sort of thing that Observers, i.e., Encodings, embody in the first place, somehow connecting and translating “them there” to “us here” for the sake of interaction. In Maelender terms, it would mean nothing less than becoming a Prime, which as far as I can tell, not even the Maelenders claim is possible, even in theory.

This is one of the suspicious universals of Reality: Observation is one-directional. I realise I am going against the grain of the Prime Theory of the Maelenders, but my point is not to refute the experiences of those Maelenders who claim they witnessed creatures they refer to as Primes. I’m questioning only their explanatory framework. As atheists have frequently observed of various pantheons how embarrassingly and suspiciously human many deities seem, one has to say—for all of the intensely individualized self-expression of the Maelenders—their Primes certainly share, to a suspicious degree, certain traits that seem fundamental to Maelender culture itself: above all and most foremost an emphasis on interpersonal interaction as the very basis of Culture (if not Reality itself).

But I want to stress again: the only Maelenders whose experiences of the Primes I would suspect would be those I suspect of lying for some external reason. The fact that no one can travel to the world of the Primes marks a limitation that is more than absolute and for that reason extremely suspicious and interesting. Not even Chaos can translate me to the world of the Primes; that’s a limit on the absolute potential of Chaos we should not pass over lightly. It is one thing to say “I” cannot reach there—I’m a limited being, as we all are. But that Chaos cannot reach there to put anyone there, that’s another kettle of fish.

We’ll have to leave it as idle speculation for now whether Chaos does in fact influence the domain of the Primes. All I want to say at the moment is that on this side of the epistemological barrier, the Maelender claim to have seen the Primes in their actuality seems premature to me. Hence, I use the term Observers to offer an alternative designation. What I see, when I try to look “out” of Reality: I see the Sphere of Encoding, and beyond that Chaos.

But we now know also of the Neither. And if the “quantum cloud” of multiple states wreaks havoc on notions of determinism, then to the extent that we might enact or enable or encode some sort of similar encoding marks out a way—an extremely dangerous way, once again, due to the threat of a solipsistic collapse—to free oneself of determinism.

But after having said all of this, one appreciates the bluntness and ease of implementation in Schiller voluntary submission. Yet at the same time, the difficulty of the Encoding challenge opens up a very vast number of possibilities and speculations, especially in light now of the presence of the Neither.

Just because a thing is difficult does not mean it’s worth doing but neither is it also therefore not worth doing.


[1] My aversion to the use of the word “nature” borders on reasonable, but here needn’t occur a variation on the origins of my aversion. What I would note, rather: I would much sooner have written “Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but rather in the qualities (or perhaps the quiddity) of omniscience itself”—but had I done so, not only would the sense of the claim have become unfamiliar (largely due to the word “quiddity”) but also because a certain kind of intellectual “work” or “symbolism” gets carried by the word “nature” that fails to come across with the word “qualities”. This suggests that the word “nature” (rhetorically speaking) performs a sleight-of-hand—perhaps even a bait-and-switch—that, I suspect, lies at the root of how sapient consciousness in particular get deceived about the most fundamental things. Perhaps later in these notes I will return to this.

I compose these notes to fit the mind of the student for whom I intend them.This is part 3; you may find parts 1-3 here, here, and here, respectively; parts 4-6 are here, here, and here, respectively. I include the introduction from part 1 again below.

For those more or less advanced, there may seem much that digresses or states things too succinctly. I believe one may still find value in reading these notes, even for those not the student in question. In those places where things seem too much elaborated, I apologise that my student’s frame of mind overtaxes yours. And where things move too quickly, I can only suggest immersing yourself in the more elemental or basic texts that address the matters at hand.

Also, I use past and present conjugations of the verb “to be” under protest. You should imagine every occurrence in quotation marks; typographical preciousness prevents me from indulging this visually.


No system, however imperfect, contains errors.

Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but instead in the nature[1] of omniscience.

However, given that adding manpower to a late project makes it later, we may understand then not only:

  • that the reproduction of the world—understood in its broadest and narrowest senses—puts off the end of the world, but also
  • that the elaboration of a trinary (or greater) logic can only paper over, sometimes very cleverly or intriguingly, the abyss that binary logic (or dichotomous thinking generally) opens up.

Let us take some steps to move beyond this.

Present Issues, Future Research

I have demonstrated how binaries (and especially the Reality Declarative binary of “is true”/”is false”) not only implicitly contains matter contrary to its stated dichotomy (if not a reflection in fact of its own contradiction) but may therefore be harnessed in neither-nor constructions to orient one to the way out (without necessarily making one capable of taking that way out yet). Moreover, to put all of this in a more appealing wrapper, the neither-nor construction at root enables an aesthetic response to Reality. No wonder then that Sade and Schiller both intuited that the “way out” passed through the divine road of Art; Sad even advised if you wanted to really go all out, one should commit the kind of immorality, criminality, and blasphemy possible only in writing. Thus we may say for all people, as also for the Artist, that the aesthetic gesture offers a way to orient oneself to a way out. For those who seek to avoid determination, call this a proof of concept.

Now, of course Sade admitted that his Art did not free him; that is, he saw all of his Art stained by drooling Nature, and we might recall at this juncture that his sadomasochism might well have wallowed delightedly in how Nature offended him. I’m suggesting that for all of his railing, he might have (on certain days at least) have enjoyed, even actively sought out, his subjugation. In which case perhaps he’d simply assented to Schiller’s recommendation to submit voluntarily, albeit with screaming.

Schiller begins with the question of violence, necessity, and voluntary submission to that which cannot truly be avoided, but he does so in the context of an essay on aesthetics, specifically about the Sublime. And in a moment that still radiates to this day with brilliance, he infers the existence of freewill (i.e., the point of nondetermination) out of the experience of the Sublime. In a commentary on Schiller’s essay, we read:

The theory of types in Naïve and Sentimental Poetry illustrates two major aspects of Schiller’s final position. First, there are, as a matter of fact, at least two radically opposed ways of viewing the world; and what has been shown of the poets is also true of men in general: as witness the extension of the theory of poetic types to the idealist and realist in the last part of the essay. Second, neither of these opposed world-views can claim objective validity, either in the “strong” sense of the rationalists, nor in the “weaker” sense of Kant (37, emphasis added).

I interrupt here briefly. Set aside for the moment whether the distinction here between objective validity “neither in the ‘strong’ sense of the rationalists, nor in the ‘weaker ‘sense of Kant,” makes sense. If the statement reads as confusing, suspend that in disbelief for the moment and follow what he offers next.

The evidence against the strict objectivity of the rationalists is the impossibility of verifying our generalizations about the world against objective reality; and … the evidence [against Kant’s sense of objectivity] is the absence of a human consensus regarding the reality of the world as it appears to men (37–8).

Because then comes the startling turn.

Of two conflicting hypotheses [i.e., in this case the strict rationalists or the Kantian position], at least one must be wrong; it seems to be Schiller’s conclusion that both are wrong (38).

Notwithstanding that the two positions Schiller rejects are not literally A and not-A, nonetheless, when he was faced with a seemingly adequate either/or dichotomy, it matters tremendously that he responded instead with a neither/nor, that both were wrong. From Schiller himself then:

The feeling of the sublime is a mixed feeling. It is a composition of melancholy which at its utmost is manifested in a shudder, and of joyousness which can mount to rapture and, even if it is not actually a pleasure, is far preferred by refined souls to all pleasure.

This combination of two contradictory perceptions in a single feeling demonstrates our moral independence in an irrefutable manner. For since it is absolutely impossible for the very same object to be related to us in two different ways, it therefore follows that we ourselves are related to the object in two different ways; furthermore, two opposed natures must be united in us, each of which is interested in diametrically opposed ways in the perception of the object.

By means of the feeling for the sublime, therefore, we discover that the state of our minds is not necessarily determined by the state of our sensations, that the laws of nature are not necessarily our own, and that we possess a principle proper to ourselves that is independent of all sensuous affects (198).

By this, Schiller discovers, the simultaneity of our two (or more) different positions on one object shows that any sense of necessity–before which we (by definition) have no choice–that would otherwise follow from such an object “breaks” the argument for necessity, and thus reveals and demonstrates the actual freedom we experience (in our apperception of the sublime).

Besides the philosophical interest of this, it (1) shows a point where our sense of powerlessness in the face of events, which is another way of saying an unchangeable necessity we can do nothing about except learn to accept it, may be contradicted and thus combated, and (2) specifically argues that only art (aesthetic, and specifically sublime, work) offers the space or the opportunity for creating the real ground of change, first of all by demonstrating people are not powerless (before necessity).

All of this, of course, only provides the proof that a way out exists, and Schiller himself is not concerned at whatever might be acting in a determinative manner on “the state of our minds”; more precisely, Schiller takes the experience of the Sublime as positing our nondetermination by our biology or our environment. This, because he is content with (or sees no alternative to) greeting enthusiastically those determinations that we declare by fiat as originating from ourselves. In other words, if my blue eyes determine how I see the world, I elect not to be offended or wounded by that determination.

Schiller, who wrote a great deal on the development of an aesthetic sensibility, would surely see the “metaphor” of Art at work in this sort of assent to one’s declaration of what constitutes acceptable or non-offensive determinations. Moreover, to the extent that even “lowly individuals” can make world-declarations for themselves, nothing contradictory arises if Schiller (or we) insist that determinations that arise from the self are non-offensive, or even more strongly: are not determinations at all, as I suggested at the end of the last section.

In this light, the gesture of voluntary submission as well has the same quality. A person experiences agonising hunger pangs and simply declares they are not determined by that necessary violence and thus impose their own confession of voluntary submission (of their own freewill) upon it.

It may seem this is merely semantic, and it is if we only merely “say” these things. But when we also “will” it, that willing changes not the world but how we experience the world. (So some, to will a change does change the World.) A cynic might decry Schiller’s voluntary submission as merely a pretty fiction, but from Schiller’s point of view, his world transforms when he voluntarily submits to a necessity he cannot defeat. We might call his sense of dignity “ridiculous” at that moment, but for Schiller, he lives and experiences that dignity.

In this quibbling with Schiller, we see again the pressure of “is true”. An external observer wants to insist that such voluntary submission is ridiculous, while Schiller himself goes on dwelling quite authentically in greater peace in his own dignity because of it. And the question of whether he “really does or doesn’t” seems to come up as if it mattered. Never mind whether or not we should leave poor Schiller in peace, in his truth or delusion or not. Or that sometimes megalomaniacs make declarations to themselves that start fucking up the world around them and that’s quite a real-world problem The point here simply means to make clear that this sort of reality-declaration by Schiller informs the same kind of world-building that the aesthetic impulse contains or reflects when it makes art.

Because they are identical in origin, even as they are different in deployment; that is, in principle one’s aesthetic selections when making Art are governed (constrained) by nothing besides the “laws of Art” whereas what governs (constrains) my freewill is often very habitually or unconsciously taken care of. Schiller demonstrates we might always have freewill (whether we remember to practice it or not), and that our capacity for Reality-declaration, given to us in inheritance at the very least from whoever declared our Reality in the first place (if not ultimately Chaos), remains forever at our beck and call.

How do we invoke it? No. The question before that is: how do we remember (when) to invoke it. Not to remember that we can makes us subject (by default) to the “is true” of our governing Reality, to our habitual (and thus otherly determined) characteristics. Thus, just as Schiller arrived at his insight by rejecting an either/or and resorting instead to a neither/nor (which oriented him to a way out), so too may we follow his example.

All of Culture, all of Reality, encourages us to stay within the confines of the either/or, so much so that formal logic generally pretends that neither/or isn’t even logically defensible (even when logicians necessarily include it in their truth tables). Thus, to remember we needn’t roll down the rails of the either/or makes for the far more important step than whatever we might do next. Without that first remaindering and remembering, then we would never make another than is “already fated” for us. Without questioning the premise of the either/or at the very outset, everything else that follows merely belies the obligations of karma, of the Reality defining either/or, true/false. If we don’t stop ourselves at the very beginning, everything that follows serves only to further determine us, if not trap or enslave us.

But does any of this really assist us in the aim of being (absolutely) free from determination either by the Artist or anything else, while taking as a given, at least for the moment, that such a thing is desirable in the first place?

We have demonstrated for ourselves a defensible argument for freewill, which is at least a necessary if not sufficient condition for non-determination;[2] we have noted, with Schiller, that we may defeat Necessity by making it our own; we have observed that we make at least a first gesture toward annulling determination when we remember to make our aesthetic choices consciously and deliberately rather than unconsciously and habitually; we have elaborated the cognitive intervention technique of the neither-nor formula as a way to orient ourselves toward (unimaginable) rifts in Reality, while our analysis of binaries has also pointed at least to the gaps and cracks wherein we may find alternatives—an entire 50% of Reality—that virtually all Encodings take no account of; we have identified individuals (native inhabits of the Neither) who might be able to assist for the “outsiders” view they possess; and we have at least suggested that a study of Encodings that rest on an elemental principle other than an “is true” Declaration of an Encoder’s desires may—in those resultant Realities’ baffling and actual simultaneity of differing states—provide a milieu where the notion of karma as the symbol par excellence of determination becomes radically incoherent if not meaningless. And this, because in such an Encoding, whether the Artist’s choice (or any other factor) “does or does not” even affect me, much less determine me, is factually 60% true/40% false, 20% true/80% false (maybe even 90% false), and so on, simultaneously. But seemingly rhetorical games with percentages aside, the most determining factor in the Neither—so far as researches there to date have disclosed—involves the observer, so that of the uncountably multiple potential states of determination and non-determination that simultaneously do and do not bear upon an observer will have a determining effect most of all, if not exclusively, because you observed it as such.[3]

Outside of the Neither (and not even within it, to be accurate), it remains by no means obvious or unambiguous that one’s presence (with its conscious or unconscious desiring) calls down karma upon oneself. Such vastly endowed forces like Furies and Vendetta Beasts seem far more convincingly explained as the sent-forth agents of an outraged third party than the “secret desire for punishment” (or some such) on the one who gets such Beings sicced upon them. One can say, of course, that such Beings don’t get sent forth for nothing, but the aesthetic history of these creatures, both in fact and fiction, many times over show that those destroyed and annihilated by these vast retributive forces were factually wholly ignorant of the cause of the offense. Some “unconscious” willing of karma does not explain anything in this case. One must argue—and it has been—that such creatures represents one massive pay-off for no end of accumulated disastrous karma, though this would still beg the question why, after all of this time, does an ultimate force of retribution suddenly fire up its weapons of utter annihilation. It’s certainly not because some watermark or tally gets exceeded, because vastly more nefarious Beings have wandered openly around with complete impunity for eons longer than many unfortunates dispatched in more or less of a trice by Furies or Vendetta Beasts. Some different mechanism seems at work.

And for want of another explanation, it seems simply a matter of catching someone’s eye, i.e., of being observed. In a case of straightforward revenge, we easily imagine some wounded party calling down retribution; in a case of karma (as a retributive principle at work in Reality), we cannot help but notice, simply as a matter of history and of justice, that not all bad deed—not even deeds that involve the destruction of entire realities—get their comeuppance. If karma operates simply as a mechanical principle in Reality, then we can hardly miss that it seems extremely selective.[4] But whether karma operates with “perfect justice” (over some sufficiently long period of time) or “seems imbalanced,” in either case a necessary condition for karma to “activate” would be an observer.

In the Neither, this observer will often (and sometimes exclusively) be me—as if I will the arrow of karma to the target of myself—but this does not preclude the possibility of a “third party” observer as well, especially since in Reality, if I am a target of retribution, it normally feels as if the (wounded) third party makes the most decisive part of the decision to fire a retributive arrow of karma at me. But here again, even in the absence of the wounded party knowing who to punish, karma may still often find its target.

Some who object to the determinations of the Artist report that at times the experience of his presence in their lives feels like a “spotlight”. We may also note that the notion of the “light of consciousness” borrows the metaphor of “light” in order to characterize the experience of understanding; just as physical light permits us to see, so the “light of consciousness” permits us to understand. So the spotlight of the presence of the Artist in a person’s light seems to link to the experience of a light of consciousness not one’s own. In a word, the Artist pays attention to you. And I suggest that this agonising experience described by others is more general than generally admitted (i.e., that things “pay attention” to us more often than we realise), most of all because we fail to see any “double presence”, i.e., the lights (plural) of consciousness that our younger luminaries suffer under.

Their agonising condition arises because they see two lights, their own and another, but only when someone (the Artist) pays attention to them. And so we too only experience any light of consciousness at all as well when something pays attention to us—or, to speak more accurately and fairly—the unambiguous experience of twoness that our young luminaries experience is not so unambiguous in ourselves. If we too are “attended to,” we do not realise, I am suggesting, that a second light of consciousness shines in our minds. Whether this means we go into a kind of fugue state of possession where another takes us over and we have no recollection of it—this seems very unlikely—or whether our secret passenger merely goes along for the ride is not clear. Perhaps a more unnerving possibility is that the interloper takes over our will but arranges this feat in such a way that in their absence—if any—we go on believing we acted wholly of our own accord.

Unnerving to imagine but merciful in practice. Because, as Schiller’s argument makes clear, whatever others might think of my voluntary submission, for me it makes a difference in the world. So too here. If the deeds and words and doings of my interloper are seamlessly integrated into my own self-understanding, then it is as if there is no interloper at all. Only an external third party could ever notice the affront, and even then I might fail to be convinced. This is, of course, all covertly referring (again) to that notion of Primes by the Maelenders. But even to have an unambiguous vision of these strange creatures really doesn’t get us very far. For instance, are these sentences I am composing at this very moment the work of my interloper or myself? And even if my interloper says to me, “Fool, I wrote all of this not you,” I can laugh and call them an even bigger fool back.

More broadly, if only to avoid all of the theological history and pseudoontological empiricism too many associate with both proponents and opponents of the notion of Primes amongst the Maelenders, let us simply posit the existence of interlopers, Beings who on some basis—obviously Encoded into Reality—are capable of “interacting” with or through creatures, beings, entities, existences, and whatnot that dwell in Reality.

Cynics call this the Puppet Theory of existence; that we comprise nothing more than puppets, operated (usually badly) by pathetic, greasy-faced beings who, if they ever had the audacity finally to stand before us, would be wiped out with the barest flick of a pinky. Such speculative masochism grows boring very quickly but more damningly it bears no semblance to Reality. More precisely, this Puppet Theory fails to account for the 99.99% (or more) portion of Reality obviously, clearly, and utterly untouched by any such Puppetmasters.[5]

An empirically verifiable fact of Existence discloses the trace—I will not yet say the “presence”—of what I will call Observers in two ways. First, the distinction of Being and Existence itself logically requires Observers to have reality in the first place. And our capacity as observers originates in Observers; we are observers (of ourselves and our world) by virtue of the capacities of Observers. This is a speculative hypothesis of course and quite unprovable, but as with all explanatory hypotheses, we can make judgments about the relative merits of them and see what the consequences are. It is “cheap” to say that we are observers because there are Observers, but it is also easier than explaining how the self-awareness of Consciousness came about but (more importantly) more desirable than the notion that Consciousness is nothing more than an epiphenomenon. Some will say it is slightly outrageous to call a speculative hypothesis a “fact,” but once we have taken it as a premise and it enters into the social discourse of the world that is, after all, exactly what a fact is.

Far more concretely, we may cite all of those people who do, in fact, report the experience of twoness in their light of consciousness. I realise that just earlier I more or less insisted that we could not tell a difference; generally, most don’t. But not only are our younger luminaries the only people to report feeling a dual presence in their light of consciousness; others have as well, and not just Maelenders when they are talking about Primes. And if I hesitated to say this earlier, it is because to do so necessarily means making obvious to any Observer, “We know you’re watching us.”

Of course, even this fact remains subject to epistemological extension out to a sceptical infinity; the argument does not require any “factual existence” to Observers. And, in fact, I raise all of this simply to speak about the operation of karma and the idea of freedom from determination. Because I am proposing that it is only when Observers pay attention that karma operates in Reality, whether justly or not, whether sporadically or not, whether wonkily or not, &c.—and for the same reason that our most profound experiences of Existence (not Being) occur when we are being Observed.

Right now, I am being Observed.

And later, when my Observer becomes bored or sleepy or distracted or whatever else draws attention away from me, the doubled light of consciousness now perfectly obvious to me will “collapse” or “singularize” back to the single one I have known for more than two billion years. In a similar fashion, as I sifted through the labyrinthine hyper-ruins of millions of destroyed realities, only in the barest and almost microscopic of ways would I find any secondary trace of Consciousness. IT was millennia before I realized this absence of doubled light was not just a consequence of the wiping out of the reality in question. In the face of what was practically erasure, to find “nothing” hardly could astonish me. But lately, as I pore over some of my gathered data again—a habit so deeply entrenched in me I often don’t even notice I am doing it—I can see now in places where there was once an absolute “lack of attention” faint little pools of light. I had tea recently in one of the most megalithic ruins I ever encountered, and I chose the place for the absoluteness of its desolation, and despite that, as I had tea with my only friend from my entire time in the voids of those existences there was a glimmering nimbus of attention there that not only most definitely had never existed before (again, I chose the location of tea for that very reason) but that could not have existed, considering how utterly the place was destroyed. So, someone or something Observed that meeting.


[1] My aversion to the use of the word “nature” borders on reasonable, but here needn’t occur a variation on the origins of my aversion. What I would note, rather: I would much sooner have written “Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but rather in the qualities (or perhaps the quiddity) of omniscience itself”—but had I done so, not only would the sense of the claim have become unfamiliar (largely due to the word “quiddity”) but also because a certain kind of intellectual “work” or “symbolism” gets carried by the word “nature” that fails to come across with the word “qualities”. This suggests that the word “nature” (rhetorically speaking) performs a sleight-of-hand—perhaps even a bait-and-switch—that, I suspect, lies at the root of how sapient consciousness in particular get deceived about the most fundamental things. Perhaps later in these notes I will return to this.

[2] If we lived without self-awareness, this also affects a condition of non-determination, but here this is sufficient but not necessary. Many sapients might also find it undesirable.

[3] Curiously, this is not so unlike Reality already except that in Reality it seems more metaphorical, i.e., the sense of being determined (by anything, the Artist or not) seems most of all to arise, as a problem, not in the moment of being determined, but only afterward, as an interpretation of the event of having been determined (whether one really was at that time or not). The upside to this victim-blaming is how it in principle—though unfortunately not always necessarily in practice—identifies the victim as a non-passive agent capable of intervening into what has happened to them. Still, there is something of a false equivalency offered in this. If one may more or less correctly say that the principle of karma in the Neither (and Realities encoded like it) has no analogous sense with its consequences in Reality, then the “calling down upon oneself” that the Neither’s Encoding “brings about” places “authorship” of that event in a different place (on the individual) than in Reality, where the consequences are scripted or written by the Author of Reality (or a given sub-reality). The upside to the “it’s all your fault” aspect of the Neither would be the “it’s all your credit as well” except that in the presence of multiple sapiences “who” dictates the states of reality around the group becomes a negotiated matter between everyone in the group (consciously or not).

[4] Proponents of karma will accuse me of oversimplifying. Assume I lead an exemplary life and then suddenly someone viciously defrauds me of my fortunate. Meanwhile, a super-criminal not only continues his career of evil but becomes a celebrity and role model and receives millions, &c. Proponents of karma would point out that it is arrogant of me to assume I lived such an exemplary life that I harmed no one in the course of my living—or, to be more fair, they might not call it arrogant, but certainly very narrow-minded and selective in my own sense of my own goodness and exemplary living. One needn’t even resort to mentioning “past lives” to explain “bad karma,” in part because what one means by a “past life” includes not only previous material embodiments as a living entity, but also every yesterday that I have lived through in this life. Similarly, our impatience that the master criminal has not yet had his comeuppance belies just that: impatience. But these metaphysical quibbles miss how this notion of karma can help individuals. When the individual says to herself, “Why do I suffer? Ah, it’s my doing,” this enables them to address those choices that made it so. This must be and can only arise from the individual saying so; for me to say to one who suffers, “You brought it upon yourself” is already dubious enough; when it becomes a rational for inaction against social injustices, then we see the meaning of karma perverted to a self-serving and destructive end.

[5] And, if I might add a slice of personal philosophy at this moment, I must say that the overwhelming majority of proponents who argue for the Puppet Theory of existence seem to be the sorts of assholes who are looking for an excuse to avoid being held accountable for that. People with some modicum of ethical responsibility will insist, even if the Puppet Theory is entirely true, that they are still somehow accountable agents for their actions and they’d sooner “bear the burden” for the acts of their Puppeteers than have the sum total of every action in their life taken away from them because “someone else did it or said it.” The mainline Puppet Theory exponents are not these kinds of people, and the sprawling histories of their biographies as unfortunate individuals in the social world bears an arguably more than ample documentation of this fact.

I compose these notes to fit the mind of the student for whom I intend them.This is part 3; you may find parts 1-3 here, here, and here, respectively; part 4-5 are here and here. I include the introduction from part 1 again below.

For those more or less advanced, there may seem much that digresses or states things too succinctly. I believe one may still find value in reading these notes, even for those not the student in question. In those places where things seem too much elaborated, I apologise that my student’s frame of mind overtaxes yours. And where things move too quickly, I can only suggest immersing yourself in the more elemental or basic texts that address the matters at hand.

Also, I use past and present conjugations of the verb “to be” under protest. You should imagine every occurrence in quotation marks; typographical preciousness prevents me from indulging this visually.


No system, however imperfect, contains errors.

Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but instead in the nature[1] of omniscience.

However, given that adding manpower to a late project makes it later, we may understand then not only:

  • that the reproduction of the world—understood in its broadest and narrowest senses—puts off the end of the world, but also
  • that the elaboration of a trinary (or greater) logic can only paper over, sometimes very cleverly or intriguingly, the abyss that binary logic (or dichotomous thinking generally) opens up.

Let us take some steps to move beyond this.

Declaring & Encoding

Those who examine the Encodings of Realities frequently expatiate breathlessly on the elegance of the fact that it all arises out of “zeroes and ones”. Less trivially, and more factually, it all arises from structural accumulations of either ”is true” or “is false”. From all I’ve already said, it becomes clear then that this points to the essential trap (or support structure, depending upon your attitude toward the stuff) of a Reality Encoding.

Just to keep the terminology clear, an Encoding (at the level of Reality or lower) denotes the implementation of a Reality declaration. The Encoding is the “machine code” that enacts and enables the desires, as expressed declarations, of whomever composed or deployed it.

Currently, for all of the known and studied Encodings, the declarative terms “is true” and “is false” get Encoded as One and Zero.[2] This is, of course, a “symbolic” expression. Even in organic and inorganic computational machines alike, “one” and “zero” merely represent a symbolic representation of the (energistic) substrate it operates on. Thus, one says “on”/”off” in order to point to this in a more raw way, but even “on”/”off” remains “symbolic”, since it merely points to a presence of some distinct energy state (“on”) as realizable within the organic or inorganic or time-space strata within which the operation occurs distinct from an absence of that presence (“off”).

I would prefer to banish to a footnote the following point, but it remains too essential to go overlooked.

Reality encoders will wish split a hair here, stating that it needn’t be a distinction of “on” as “energy present” and “off” as “absence of energy present”, i.e., that one may assign the states as “black” and “white” or any other two “things” so long as they provide a contrast. Yes and no. To propose a distinction like “black”/”white” as the fundamental distinction of an Encoding, at least as concerns “hardware” applications (organic, inorganic, or chronotopic, i.e., time-spatial) first requires a more “elemental” level, i.e., something like “present” and “absent” in order to provide the necessary contrast. On the other hand, when one is governed by imagination for an Encoding rather than brute matter (or time-space), then any sort of Encoding assignment whatsoever becomes in principle possible, though most simply immediately fall apart and die horrible squishy deaths in the vacuum of Futility, because even Imagination falls short of providing the needed requisites to make the contrast workable and sustainable; one might make the distinction “fish” and “insofar as” the elemental distinction of your Reality but feel free trying to imagine how that would hang together; simply saying, “It works” never works. At least, no one to date has figured out how to.

To state the matter at hand here very generally, at the very root, we needs three things for an Encoding (either Imaginative or Actual, i.e., organic, inorganic, or chronotopic): a distinction (be that black/white, zero/one, on/off, &c), the two things distinguished (in principle, any two things), and a position to make that distinction from (symbolically, the / of a distinction, but pragmatically, this encodes the standpoint of the one making the Encoding in the first place; rather literally, the Encoder is the /, or slightly more precisely, the Encoder’s standpoint, which, again in principle, anyone might occupy if they can gain access to it). In a sense, this points to the root problem of freedom from determination, since “access” to the “/” from within an Encoding necessarily occurs in terms of the Encoding. There’s the “trap”. One might occupy the position of the “/” but still not be able to “see one’s freedom”; also, even though you occupy the position of the “/”, everything available to you from that position arises, of course, from the Encoded distinction it represents. You have the cackling luxury of “using the Master’s Code against itself,” but it takes a slightly daft egotist to miss the irony of that.

Meanwhile, from all I said before about binaries, it becomes clear that this type of Encoding has a fundamental flaw: because to posit a distinction creates four categories (“on”, “off”, the “on of off” and the “off of on”), not two. So that whatever “elemental” distinction one begins with, whether based on an Actual or Imaginative substrate, the sheer Declaration its simultaneously creates more categories than the distinction can account for, and thus introduces features into your Encoding that you are at worst unaware of or, at best, unable to express plainly in terms of your distinction but rather must instead create an approximation for using the terms of the distinction. That is, as soon as you posit “east” you get “west” (of course), but also “east of west” and “west of east” and you must then somehow, using “east” and “west” approximate the other two distinguished categories. Most Encoders don’t even know this problem exists and of those who do almost none, in the range of those studied, have attempted to “fix” the problem. Some insist the problem remains “merely semantic”—a pretty dodge, but a failed one. The radical difficulty involved in this comes more to the fore if you imagine a “machine coding” of Zero and One. What, then, comprises the “zero of one” and the “one of zero”. The most conventional “solution” (more like a dodge) to this involves a bait-and-switch. The category “one of zero” (since it is “not zero”) gets arbitrarily shoehorned and reassigned as “one” and the category of “zero of one” (since it is apparently “not one”) gets arbitrarily shoehorned and reassigned as “zero”. This has the tidy effect of rendering invisible and inaccessible 50% of any encoded Reality. But, of course, just because “someone says” a thing only makes it obligatorily true if you go along with it (we will ignore, of course, that Reality “builds” us to be of the sort to go along with it), nonetheless, even the operation of Reality itself cannot absolutely hide this bait-and-switch.

To return to a previous example to make this even clearer if more metaphorical, for the psychoanalyst who insists on explaining everything in terms of “love” or “fear”, at least the patient (possibly also the psychoanalyst and possibly also the World) remains capable of taking note that some people who express a “fear of love” actually express a third category apart from the “fear” the psychoanalyst insists is operating, and similarly that some people who express a “love of fear” actually express yet another category apart from the (masochistic) “love” that the psychoanalyst’s misprision insists upon. So here again, so long as one goes along with the psychoanalysts desired Declaration of psychic health, 50% of Reality remains obscured though, in principle, still accessible.

Also, I must note in passing, that the overwhelming predominance of Encoded Realities use some variety of X/not-X as a distinction, whether of the logical type (“east”/“not-east”, “light”/“not-light”) or semantic type “east”/“west”, “radiance”/“darkness”). No one but Chaos, so far as I know, has deployed a distinction of X/X (“Chaos, as distinct from Chaos”). For our poor beleaguered minds, this seems to have the effect of erasing the distinction, although this is only because we can no longer follow the distinction. It is interesting, in this respect, that such an Encoding (if we would impute Chaos an Encoder) does not run afoul of “invisible categories”—or, at least, in the four categories that result (“chaos”, “chaos”, the “chaos of chaos” and the “chaos of chaos”) it does not seem that such an Encoding hides 50% of what it encodes.

I said that in the general case, an Encoding requires three things: a distinction, things distinguished, and the symbolic representation of the one who distinguished. But an Encoding represents simply (or not so simply at all) a material or imaginative embodiment of the Encoder; it represents an expression of the Encoder’s desires (if not the will as well). In other words, it represents a trace of the desire to declare what “is true” (and hence also what “is false”).[3] At root, this is what Zero and One “encode”.

Something else interesting may be noted here. Nothing necessarily dictates whether “is true” must be One and “is false” must be Zero. In fact, Reality Encoders may just as well randomly assign this. Operationally, this makes no difference. Rather, the difference appears when comparing two Realities. Those that both assign One in the same way (e.g., One = “is true”) will show vast numbers of affinities between themselves, and travellers between such Realities will experience a much less severe degree of “Reality shock” when visiting there than travellers from those Realities who venture into others where the opposite polarity prevails (e.g., One = “is false”). One may immediately imagine “moral” entailments that result from this, and indeed one finds any number of pairs of Realities (often created by the same Encoder) where nothing varies but that original assignment of Zero and One. Conventionally, this displays as “good” and “evil” versions of those Realities—and of course, inhabitants from both sides spare no breath arguing over who is “good” and who is “evil”.

For the sake of completeness, I should add (as I noted at the outset) that one needn’t resort only to binary logics for this sort of thing; Varela developed “true”, “false” and “self-reference” as a trinary alternative, and many others have developed many others. And also as I noted much earlier, such an elaboration of a trinary (or greater) logic can only paper over, sometimes very cleverly or intriguingly, the abyss that binary logic (or dichotomous thinking generally) opens up.[4] For when we are confronted by the endless inadequacy of true/false as a warrant for action on our part, in the necessity of having to choose to believe something or to name our fundamental experiences of Reality as valid (or not), then if we have Varela’s third, logical category this permits us (tricks us, some might say) into “normalising” contradiction, which in an only true/false Reality without Varela’s might serve to alert us that something was wrong, misnamed, incorrect, &c., and thus open a window onto the 50% of Reality obscured by the distinctions deployed. But we may remember also that Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem assures us, forever and forever, that no Encoding can be complete. It will always generate contradictions, and those points of contradiction must always provide windows, cracks, holes, gaps (the metaphors all resemble themselves) by which we might (literally) see our way out of the System.

It is for this reason that no system, however imperfect, contains errors. The inadequacy of an Encoding is not an error; rather, it is a fundamentally constituent feature of a Reality, whether it resorts to a true/false (zero/one) declaration, as most do, or to something more esoteric. For this reason, a true/false declaration permits us to always see the way out by noting how “x is neither true nor not true” (or we might say “x is neither false nor not false”). The introduction of Varela’s “plug” only requires more verbiage to declare this: “x is neither true nor false nor a contradiction” &c.

This may seem to blur too much the distinction between Declaration and Encoding. To repeat more clearly, those who would Encode a Reality do so by instrumentalizing their desire in the distinction “is true”/”is false” (or, more briefly, true/false) by (arbitrarily) encoding it in zero and one (or something like it) (in either direction). Generally speaking, this assignment remains stable and permanent (i.e., once One gets assigned to “is true” or “is false” it stays that way), but nothing requires this to be so, and history shows a range of Realities that (violently) shift “polarities” from time to time, usually to their destruction.[5] As already mentioned, this Encoding may be Actual (a representation of energy, or non-energy in Realities without energy as typically understood) or Imaginary.[6] Again, Chaos seems to represent a special case, since there any sort of analogous assignment of Zero and One goes to “Chaos” and “Chaos” (not “Chaos” and “not-Chaos” as one might expect).[7]

Consequently, karma ensures that everything one might say about a Reality gets subjected to the question “is it true” (or “is it false”). Thus, a statement like “he exists” must be either true or false. The “must be” is the crucial part. “This planet is” must be true or false, &c.[8] The point to emphasize here doesn’t involve the content of these logical operations but rather their form and in particular their obligatory character. As far as “he exists” goes, it must be true or false; even more precisely, it must be true, false, the false of true, or the true of false, but no one I know of concerns themselves with this fuller case.

Not to bog down in trivia, but some clarity is needed here. The above does not involve a question whether “I think” he exists or not. Obviously, I might be insane, or he might have deceived me about his existence, and so and so and so on, so that his existence may be called into doubt. Insofar as all of us, even Empirathant for all of his omniscience, are epistemologically limited beings, then all of us remain subject to deception about potentially anything.[9] Rather, the point here involves whether “Reality” thinks (and therefore, simply by thinking it, asserts) he exists in way that enforces its obligation on everyone in that reality. On this score, there is (or at least most Reality declarers make it this way) no deceiving Reality. The Maelenders might add that it is the Primes who know or decide the issue whether “he exists” is true or not. It all boils down to “who gets to declare” Reality such that everyone else is (or is not) obliged to assent to that declaration. Hence, when a Vortex of Destruction appears over my planet and threatens to destroy everything, that that “is true” obliges me (1) to act according to that reality (little ‘r’) or (2) look forward to the karma of not doing so.

Thus, I suggest that the most totalizing and extensive distinction one finds, the most fundamental one as far as Reality declaration goes is concerned, is the “is true”/”is false” distinction. Or to make the matter even more strongly, there is only “is true” and like all declarations, this brings along with it its polar opposite (“is false”) and also the generally unacknowledged categories as well (“the truth of falseness” and “the falseness of truth”). With the exception of the Neither, this seems to be the case for all Realities, whether based on Actual or Imaginative Encodings.

For Reality encoders who aren’t paying attention, they only stipulate “is true” (almost invariably assigning it to One), and give little heed or attention to the consequences of not explicitly declaring “is false” and Zero along with it. And, of course, in the absence of an explicit declaration, nothing prevents Reality itself from “deciding” the remainder of the assignments. In other words, one can find Realities where a Reality Encoder stipulated (assigned) only “is true” at One, and we may then see the category “the falseness of truth” assigned to Zero. In that Reality, which can barely sustain a culture for any length of time, every attempt by everyone to establish the most basic “truths” in order to coordinate actions with one another find all of their words and assertions all but “automatically” or implicitly undermined (if not negated) by the ubiquitous presence of “the falseness of truth” in everything. Some have suggested that the turbulent political and social chaos of the demonic realms results precisely from such a lack of explicit assignment; others go even further and say that the inevitable consequence of such non-assignment precisely engendered demonic creatures in the first place (and, therefore, only secondarily demonic “culture” and “social spaces”).

These examples do not serve as critiques or analyses of content, but point rather to how a Reality Declaration establishes the obligations to which its inhabitants (and often its visitors) must submit. And in this respect, whatever is declared as “is true” imposes the most totalizing, thoroughgoing, and absolute of obligations—keeping clearly in mind that the decision about what “is true” is enforced at the highest level of Reality (or at an even higher level still).

Now, of course, as wilful beings, we may change these things, or usually at least to the degree that we then find comfort. A wild boar threatens to gore a mighty warrior yet through his swordplay he makes the boar cease to exist as a threat. Reality said, “yes” and he replied, “No” and it was within his capacity to make that declaration in that place and at that time. We don’t always have such skill or luxury of course; nonetheless, the characteristic of Reality declaration involved in the original Encoding itself almost invariably becomes a capacity in the inhabitants themselves within that given Reality. Hence, for all that Reality declares, we may always (in principle at least) answer. The writing of our narrative on the page of Reality marks a trace of this capacity.

One of course may scale from the “mere physical will” of the mighty up to something more like Reality-wide obliteration of an individual or a planet or race or an entire reality in the gesture of “erasure” but this only illustrates a matter of degree: Reality said “Yes, that race” and the Genocide replies, “No.” And voila—it becomes so, if the Genocide has sufficient means.

Indirectly, of course, this raises the objections made by those who would be free of the Artist’s determinations. We needn’t establish with perfect finality and certainty where the Artist ends and Reality begins, because the Artist—either as an agent of a Reality he already dwelt in or something somehow independent of it—encoded (or re-encoded) what “is true” and we now all find ourselves caught in that. In other words, our task is not to diagnosis his condition but to cure ours.

Even so, the question is not so merely academic as it seems. If the Artist offered his Work independently of the Reality he’d already found himself in, then either (1) he found another Reality from which he could develop his alternative to his original one, or (2) he succeeded in the younger luminaries’ present goal of being somehow undetermined enough by his then-current Reality to be able to act independently. As for possibility (1), once again we have the issues:

  • travellers take their own (Reality) baggage with them when they go elsewhere
  • the other Reality is so similar already to the one left that it doesn’t offer a traveller a sufficiently different or genuine alternative
  • or, different though it is, the traveller still interprets through the lens of categories already known to them.[10]

To stand Somewhere outside of Reality at least in principle affords one a position from which to see the difference that will make a difference in terms of constructing an alternative to Reality. But it does not yet guarantee one the certainty of seeing the difference, for the reasons above. On average, a native of Somewhere will more likely be an “alien observer” of Reality, and the younger luminaries who seek liberation from determination might look in those ranks. Of course, one my still raise the objection that a native of Somewhere will similarly take their baggage, find Reality too familiar, or misread Reality in light of Somewhere as well. In brief, it doesn’t solve the epistemological problem though, as noted earlier, it might provide some degree of relief or succour to those who feel oppressed by the presence of the Artist, and we should not scoff at such relief just because it is n only partial solution to the main problem.

Of course, to say that the Artist discovered such a Somewhere (outside of Reality) is a very dubious proposition, even as we are now in an era where a place like the Neither, which seems decidedly “outside of Reality” exists. To suggest he found such a place is like insisting that a thing could only have happened at the hands of some mythological beast that doesn’t exist. Since the Neither does exist, some researcher already do not hesitate to conclude that the Artist must have found it long ago, and this would be an attractive hypothesis if there were not any number of inhabitants in the Neither who categorically state, and on perfectly unimpugnable authority, that the Artist has never in any form made an appearance in the Neither until recently. Similarly, the mere existence of the Neither has been taken by some commentators as evidence for an un-numberable collection of similar places, any one of which the Artist might have stumbled upon through some as yet wholly supernatural means. However, here we have the declaration of the Prime Mas, who categorically identified the Neither as fundamentally dissimilar to Reality, precisely in the fact that one cannot say that its “existence” is either true or false. The entire Encoding of the Neither, most assuredly not quite Actual but at the same time not quite purely Imaginative either, does not operate (at its fundamental level) in an on/off sense. In the presence of observers, potential objects become certain objects, &c., and at that point the Neither “operates” usually how one expects, precisely because one expects. So while the Neither stands at this point as quite definitively a “counterexample” to the dominant example of Reality, it gives us no reason to infer the existence of multiple examples like it. That is, it absolutely presents for our delectation and confusion for the first time a new class of reality, which we might then “append” (argumentatively or by scientific demonstration) to Reality in general, but this process of grafting marks an “increase” in the “volume” of Reality, and not something “discovered” but hitherto not known. And while this already stands as more than ample proof that the Artist did not create his Work in light of or while standing in the Neither, the very Encoding of the Neither itself mocks the notion that we might think of it as singular. The Neither neither exists nor does not exist is one of the most factual things we may say about it, so that

§ our experiences of it already are more autobiographical than empirical;

§ the number of states the Neither actually exists in at any one time may be not just practically but theoretically indeterminable; and

§ properly speaking, we may only speak of its Encoding in a hypothetical way since to view it is to change it according to our Being, not its.

This grim prognosis relates to the second possibility noted above by which the Artist may have done his Work in relative freedom: specifically the neither-nor construction itself. For when one says “x neither is nor is not” this serves not to invoke a contradiction or paradox (at the level of content) but calls into question the validity of the descriptive category (in this case “is”) in the first place. But semantic adroitness aside, this also describes or characterises a particular kind of experience.

An example. Imagine a number line stretching “to infinity”. At some point, the line disappears into the horizon, often with a sense, “Mm, I didn’t get there.” Imagine, then, a point far, far, far, far, far out on that number line; imagine placing a stake in it there, and that as soon as you do, there’s comes the sense “not even close” and, with it, a “pull” or an “orientation” further down the number line to an (at that moment) vastly seeming degree. Thus, what we find impossible to imagine we may get a sense of by declaring a spot along the way, so that the experience “not even close” or “that’s not it” pulls us or points us “in the direction” of infinity, though, of course, we still do not literally or imaginative “arrive there”. This orienting function toward that which cannot be grasped matches the “function” of the neither-nor construction. In the moment, for example, when we assert “x neither is nor is not” opens a “window of opportunity” (however briefly) that invites the question, “well then what is it?” Of course, even that question is already in the domain of asking what it is; we might have asked, “well what is it not then?” with similar consequences. This is secondary. It is simply the moment that opens in the denial of a thing nor not that thing that matters. And I suggest further that this is at root the act of artistic creation. To blatantly, flagrantly, stipulate to Reality: Reality is not what I call it nor what I do not call it; I thus enact something else instead. And then what follows is the Work. For many sapient beings, the “truth” of “fiction” has long been not just a characteristic but sometimes a problem of Art. But, of course, if one has a truth/lie dichotomy (or just a “truth” node), this must bring with it “the truth of lies” (as well as the “lie of truths”), so that the veracity of fiction gets automatically guaranteed by a steadfast insistence on “truth” in the first place.

To say “I am neither determined nor not determined” proposes, of course, an empty verbal formula in that it does no “magic” except to open up a window beyond even the 50% of Reality normally masked by a true/false Encoding. Its only “power” is in flagrantly defying the absolute and obligatory imposition placed on those who inhabit the World by the one who performed the Encoding. We are fortunate that such Declarations must forever have not just “broken categories”—a sufficiently thorough Encoder could make good use of those quaternaries and thus (like Varela’s trinary logic) make it that much more extremely difficult even to notice the “cracks” and “gaps” and “windows” that all Encoding must reflect. Because so long as “is true” deploys itself in an Encoding, then “x neither is true nor is not true” remains forever accessible to those imposed upon within Reality as a way to “break the Code” (however briefly). And in that briefest captured moment of time, which an elementary Time Mage may then stretch out just as long as She liked, the obligatory aspect of the Code itself gets suspended, at least in its operations, and one would be able to study the Code in principle long enough to finally hack it.

Most artists aren’t so interested in being so thoroughgoing, and the Artist may be no exception to this. Again, the degree of the influence of this Coding on his reality remains an open question. And whether or not someone may break into the Encoding of the World long enough (so to speak) to satisfactorily rid themselves of the sense of the presence of the Artist or simply to refashion themselves in a sufficiently alien way vis-à-vis this current Reality that they become confident that the Artist may be no longer having an effect is neither here nor there. Also irrelevant involves the difficulty of doing this. For those younger luminaries who wish to be free of determination, this already gives them plenty to work with as an attempt. But even for the most “disempowered” mortals, the Power of art—as Schiller knew so well—stands forever ready to place us in a position of confident freewill. Schiller insisted that our aesthetic character provided a grounding for freewill, which more rationally located it than Hume, who said, more or less, “It is absolutely uncertain if we actually possess freewill but absolutely certain that we must believe we do.”

During the moment of artistic creation, when we tacitly if not explicitly state “x is neither Reality nor not Reality,” we believe we open up the moment of freedom our younger luminaries desire. And whether we are, in that moment, deluded cannot matter, because we will never know, unless someone cruelly makes it plain to us. We might, ourselves, doubt after the fact, but not that either can annihilate the moment of confidence during our creation. This because, at the level of individual self-determination (i.e., freedom from determination by others), if we say, “I am free” and believe accordingly, we are obligated to act on that tyrannical fiat, whether we want to or not.

And be free.


[1] My aversion to the use of the word “nature” borders on reasonable, but here needn’t occur a variation on the origins of my aversion. What I would note, rather: I would much sooner have written “Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but rather in the qualities (or perhaps the quiddity) of omniscience itself”—but had I done so, not only would the sense of the claim have become unfamiliar (largely due to the word “quiddity”) but also because a certain kind of intellectual “work” or “symbolism” gets carried by the word “nature” that fails to come across with the word “qualities”. This suggests that the word “nature” (rhetorically speaking) performs a sleight-of-hand—perhaps even a bait-and-switch—that, I suspect, lies at the root of how sapient consciousness in particular get deceived about the most fundamental things. Perhaps later in these notes I will return to this.

[2] Or vice versa—the coding is obviously interchangeable.

[3] Again, at the risk of endless digressions, nothing compels an Encoder to specify more than what “is true”. However, unless someone works out how to suppress the possibility, then to declare “is true” brings with it what “is false” and also “the false of true” and “the true of false”. Again, no Encoders (other than myself) concern themselves with these last two categories, but some do not even bother to Declare what “is false”. And this leaves wide open all kinds of bizarre behaviour on the part of Realities so created. They often seem like vast vortexes of denial, since “the false” is often so overwhelmingly potent (and vast) that it impinges continuously—usually indirectly, but sometimes directly—on the true. One may wonder if such Realities are actually so frequent; most Consciousness rests on this model. It addresses only what it Sees (senses) and almost never what it doesn’t. Thus, the Unconscious will sometimes take on enormous potency and force and overwhelm Consciousness entirely. In mild cases, we call this neurosis; in severe cases, psychosis.

[4] But for the present part of this exposition, the salient point hinges on the fact that the “is true” and “is false” (and/or additional terms, like “self-reference”) describe what goes into the Encoding as the absolute determinant of everything, including the behaviour of those who live in the Reality. In this sense, Varela’s logic does us a disservice, because his category of “self-reference” (as a logical condition like “true” or “false”) operates to “close off” the sorts of cracks or gaps in binary true/false logics that might otherwise function for those inhabiting a given Reality as clues to a way out. That is, since the binary of true/false suggests as well “the truth of falseness” and “the falseness of truth,” to the extent that we call these categories “paradoxes” or “contradictions” then Varela’s formulation of “self-reference” provides us a seemingly logical reason to “explain away” our experience under the auspices of “self-reference” (or contradiction). Thus, when we experience something like “the falseness of truth,” we complacently (or grumpily) explain this simply as a “contradiction” in Reality, perhaps unhappily declaring “that’s just how it is,” rather than realizing the opportunity this affords to notice that “the falseness of truth” has opened a window onto the 50% of Reality the Encoding deliberately or accidentally ignores.

[5] Certain kinds of eigenrealities succeed in finding pivot-points where changes of polarity do not result in so-called destructive momentum (or destructive inertia). The most famous example of such an eigenreality—that is, the Reality most often cited as a case of this kind of eigenreality—is, of course, Chaos itself.

[6] That is, again, even this zero and one Encoding already denotes a symbolic representation of—in the greatest number of such implementations—alternating energy states (i.e., energy “is present” or “is absent”), but this simply points to the mechanical representation of the distinction in the first place. That is, one needn’t use “energized” or “not energized” to physically represent the distinction, and Realities where energy is not present at all clearly do not permit this kind of mechanical implementation. By this, I do not (like some commentators) imply or attempt to insist that different “kinds” of energy (e.g., physical, spiritual, negative material, anti-energy, dark matter, demonic “force”, &c) require subdistinctions to have a coherent theory about them. Quite obviously, what it takes energetically to implement either a water wheel or a Hell-forge differ vastly in an engineering sense, but in both cases one has to “channel” some “energy” into or toward a “vessel” &c. The specific differences of implementation here neither insist (foolishly) that flowing water and demon roaring “are the same” nor vitiate the descriptive terminology used to describe those implementations. Rather, I am pointing to those Realities where “energy” in any sense does not exist. Clearly in such a setting “energy present” or “energy not present” becomes incoherent and useless as a mechanical implementation of Zero and One. In such cases, one often finds “change” and “not change” instead as the Zero/One assignment (despite the claims by some that change without energy is impossible; oh victims of their Reality declarers!).

[7] Most insist Chaos simply begs the question, but one may imaginatively at least try to envision an experiment, an empirical observation, where we might determine if “Chaos” is assigned to “One” or “Zero”. We might further investigate where that assignment remains permanent (in the usual sense of an encoding) or whether the assignments can actually shift, given certain conditions or lack of them. Of course, how one would see these assignments or shifts remains a very difficult problem outside of simply asking Chaos to make any such shifts visible to someone.

[8] If we had Varela’s logic working for us, “he exists” might be true, false, or self-referential (i.e., a contradiction; simultaneously true and false).

[9] Thus the justness of my claim that we are all omniscient. To be all-knowing means simply that, and at every moment of our Existence, we certainly can only know all that we know. Our omniscience, relative to Others, might be faulty to the point of embarrassing, but that does not mean our omniscience is any less. Nor does it mean our omniscience cannot increase, &c.

[10] Items 1 and 3 can be almost impossible to distinguish in practice.

George Will—who recently got his column dropped from a paper for his shitty remarks about victims of sexual assault, saying that they enjoy a “coveted status that confers privileges” on college campuses—continued in an equally offensive, but less obviously inflammatory way in his blurb “Mississippi Votes Its Appetite, Rejecting Tea Party”.[1]

Will wrote: “And what’s the matter with Mississippi? The fact—the state has waited a long time for this to be said—that it is so much like the rest of the nation.”

By what measure?

In terms of income, Mississippians generally make only 64 cents on the dollar compared to the rest of the United States, averaging $15,853 per year compared to $21,587. Caucasians, on average, make only 77% of their race-peers nationally; African-Americans only 57%; people the census refers to as “Asian” are percentage-wise as disadvantaged as whites (76%) compared to their peers, while those who are “some other race” or Hispanic/Latino are roughly the same as their national peers (99% and 96%, respectively). People who are “two or more races” are a little above the national average for people who are “two or more races” (108%), and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders are approximately 31% higher than Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders elsewhere in the United States. But before any pull up stakes and move to Mississippi, they’re still making only very slightly more than Caucasians in the state who, let’s remember, make only 77 cents on the dollar compared to their average national peers.

If we look at average household income, Pacific Islanders are only 2% better off than Caucasians in Mississippi than the 7% better off nationally. And this comparatively lower rate generally continues across the board in Mississippi. In absolute terms, people make less money by a considerable margin than elsewhere in the US on average, but also by percentage they also make less than their demographic peers. Or, if you prefer, you can look at the poverty values on this map to see in graphical and colourful terms how “like the rest of the nation” Mississippi is. Removing demographic ethnicity from the picture, no group by age makes an income comparable to the national average for that group. In fact, the group that comes closest, making only 80 cents on the dollar, are people 25 and under; elsewhere in the US, age 45 generally marks one’s best earning years.

This below-average status means that Mississippi is not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

How about educationally? Mississippi can boast a tiny percentage of high school graduates higher than nationally, 29.4% versus 28.6%; an 0.8% difference not sufficiently accounted for by the 3% larger grade school through high school educational population. Amongst college drop-outs, Mississippi does fare about equally to the national average, 26.6% versus 27.4%, but here the 3.4% smaller college-going population may explain this smaller number. For people with college degrees (up to doctorates), Mississippi falls well below the national average, 16.9% versus 24.4%.

This all means that nationally 19.6% have less than a high school diploma, while that number is 27.1% in Mississippi—nearly 40% higher. In terms of quality, rather than quantity, of education, as of 2012 Mississippi schools ranked 45th in the nation, taking consolation that South Dakota’s were the worst, except that Mississippi is the worst when it comes to math and science education as of 2011. Here, it may take consolation (along with the rest of us) that globally, the US itself ranked 25th of 34 (in 2009) compared to China, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Finland.

This below-average status means that Mississippi is not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

Of course, once you’re poor, other superlatives of abjection come easily. Will notes the pork that Mississippi’s senator Thad Cochran has served up

during his 33 years on the Appropriations Committee. This bright red state has the nation’s lower per capita income, the highest federal funding as a percent of revenue, and a surplus of cognitive dissonance between its professed conservatism and its actual enjoyment of the benefits Cochran can now continue to shove its way (¶2).

This seems loaded dice. If you have the lowest per capita income, i.e., if you’re amongst the poorest, then virtually by definition you will have “the highest federal funding as a percent of revenue.” Citing a percentage here may be disingenuous; it’s clear that Mississippi is not wallowing in a pig trough of pork given its dismal socioeconomic status. But where Will really fires up the offense meter—certainly not in a way that will make most “white” folk in the US call for his expulsion from their local paper—occurs when he says, “Mississippi today is burning with embarrassment, but not, at long last, embarrassment about race” (¶7):

Its Republican primary occurred three days after the 50th anniversary of the disappearance and murder of three civil rights workers—Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney—near the town of Philadelphia in Neshoba County. Today, Philadelphia’s mayor is an African-American, and Mississippi, which is 37 percent African-American, has more African-American elected officials than any other state (¶8)

I’m not sure what’s more benighted in this claim: the recentering of Whiteness over the murders of three northern kids compared to the thousands of African-Americans killed in Mississippi, or the privileging of this particularly beloved White narrative in the very state where one of the most crucial events and narratives for Black Civil Rights occurred, Emmett Till’s murder. But what Will does not mention, when he says that Mississippi has more African-American elected officials than any other state, is that Mississippi has more African-Americans than any other state. Only the District of Columbia has a higher Black population. One should rather look at the number of Black elected officials by population in general

In 1987, folks had already noted that Mississippi had the highest absolute number of Black elected officials, but Alabama still had “the highest percentage of black officeholders” (from here). Echoing my point against Will’s bland claim: “Not surprisingly, the geographic distribution of black elected officials closely parallels the distribution of the total black population in the U.S.”[2] However, as Hardy-Fanta, Sierra, Lien, Pinderhughes, & Davis (2005) make clear, “the data also show that population numbers alone do not produce descriptive representation” (9, from here). Specifically, while Mississippi has the highest Black population in the United States, it ranks 14th for percentage of Black elected officials out of 20 considered (Ohio, Illinois, and Ohio are numbers 1–3, respectively).[3]

Again, then, this below average status makes Mississippi not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

Of course, a sort of consensus declares Mississippi as historically one of the worst, if not the worst, slave states; it was, with South Carolina, one place where the number of slaves considerably outnumbered the non-slave population. [4] That again makes the history of Mississippi not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

Of course, Louisiana has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, double the rate of the world leader (the United States, both per capita and by absolute numbers), at 1,341 per 100,000. To put that in perspective, the population of India is 27661% times greater than Louisiana’s, yet Louisiana’s incarceration rate per capita is 4470% greater than India’s. Mississippi’s incarceration rate is 1,155 per 100,000, or 3850% higher than India’s. This is far above the national average and makes Mississippi not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

As far as inmates condemned on death row, despite the considerably smaller number of Black people in the US, in approximately 17 states is the number of White inmates on death row larger than the number of Blacks. Florida is one such place, but it also has the second highest number of condemned inmates. By contrast, Pennsylvania and Texas have the most disproportionate numbers of Black compared to White inmates on death row, 107 versus 67 and 116 versus 83, respectively. In part, this is due to the overwhelmingly well-supported fact that someone (of any race) who kills a white person is far more likely to get the death penalty than for killing any other race:

Since 1977, the overwhelming majority of death row defendants have been executed for killing white victims, although African-Americans make up about half of all homicide victims (from here)

Nationally (just considering Black and White inmates), there are 1,334 white people (50.81%) on death row and 1,291 Black people (45.83%); in Mississippi there are 22 Whites (45.83%) and 26 Blacks (54.16%) on death row. So if the national average has Whites slightly ahead, then this once again makes Mississippi not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

However, some might want to say that since the US Black/White population breaks down to 13.1% and 77.9%, respectively, while in Mississippi the numbers run 37.4% and 59.9%, respectively, then this does seem to make the disproportionateness of the overrepresentation of Blacks on death row in Mississippi not as monstrously severe as the national average. If I’ve thought through the math correctly, then with respect to death row inmates, there is only a very small difference between U.S. national and Mississippi state death sentences for Blacks, 2.69 per 100,000 versus 2.33 (a 14% difference), while Mississippi has a higher condemnation rates for Whites than nationally, 1.23 per 100,000 versus 0.51 (a 41% difference). In theory, I have incorporated the relatively different population sizes in these calculations, but the most important thing to remember: this concerns only death row inmates, not prison populations generally.

I mention the death penalty, because “Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama were the leading lynching states. These five states furnished nearly half the total victims. Mississippi had the highest incidence of lynchings in the South as well as the highest for the nation, with Georgia and Texas taking second and third places, respectively” (from here). Once again, this makes the history of Mississippi not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

How about some more measures? For real estate value, Mississippi ranks 45th (just behind West Virginia, but ahead of Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Ohio, and Iowa) with an average listing price $201,450, well below the average for all of the US markets (from here). Or, by one measure of cost of living, Mississippi at least finishes dead last, which most decidedly makes it once again not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims. Mississippi claims its main industry is agriculture (employing 29% of its workforce), but 2.3 billion of its 6.3 billion comes from poultry (from here)–not exactly a growth sector. In 2013, per capita real GDP was lowest of all fifty states in Mississippi, at $32,421—that’s only 66% of the national per capita real GDP rate of $49,115. Mississipians can take heart that this rate of GDP growth (1.6%) was at least in the middle most category (ranking 29th for growth overall). However, there was a bit of a bubble in 2012, which Mississippi was ahead of the curve on; by 2013, it had slowed down considerably; compared to the national slow-down (28%), Mississippi braked 45%, sliding from a 3.5% growth rate (compared to 2.5% nationally) in 2012 to 1.6% in 2013 (1.8% nationally). That’s above-average bad performance–not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims. And when you consider Mississippi in conjunction with all of various regions in the US (like the Great Lakes Region, the Far West, &c) that the BEA keeps tabs on, Mississippi’s slow-down put it at 47th (out of 63 possible); once again well below the national average (which was 34th) and thus not “so much like the rest of the nation” as Will claims.

The most obnoxious part of Will’s assertion, besides its obvious inaccuracy or non-truth as the above makes evident, centres around what looks that desire to once again make the absurd claim that we live in a post-racial United States—because it must clearly be the case: if Mississippi (as the worst slave state ever) is post-racial, then surely the rest of us must be as well.

I’d like to think Will’s understanding of racial history doesn’t derive merely from the movie he obviously references (Mississippi Burning), but when his historical consciousness can’t remember to mention Emmett Till, and when his invocation of a Black elected official in Philadelphia, Mississippi seems to bear affinities to “well I have a Black friend so I can’t be racist” kinds of tropes, then it becomes difficult to give him the benefit of that doubt.

Lastly, I want to make clear: by citing all of these unattractive statistics about Mississippi, it should be clear that this points above all and most glaringly to the historical consequences of Mississippi as one of the worst, if not the worst, of slave states. It’s not unreasonable to expect that a state with a larger slave population than owners would eventually have the second highest per capita prison rate in the world—what are all those descendants of owners to do with all of that “surplus labour”. One could reasonably expect, where White terrorism reached its highest point (in lynchings) in playing a role to generate the kind of poverty we now see in Mississippi that a lack of access to education plays a key part in that. It should be no surprise that the White Mississippi power structure has sent the same guy to Congress for 33 years, while its own numbers for Black elected officials only reaches 14th out of 20 states considered.

All of this just makes it that much more grotesque that Will can use Mississippi as his “test case” for implying we’re post-racial.


[1] By “less inflammatory,” I mean that White folks will be less inclined to notice how offensive the remarks are.

[2] The rest of the passage runs, “The ten states with the highest numbers of black elected officials are Mississippi (548), Louisiana (505), Alabama (448), Georgia (445), Illinois (434), North Carolina (353), South Carolina (340), Arkansas (319), Michigan (316), and California (293). Nationally, the total increased from 6,424 to 6,681. Not surprisingly, the geographic distribution of black elected officials closely parallels the distribution of the total black population in the U.S. The South has 53 percent of the nation’s black population and 62 percent of all black elected officeholders. The second largest concentration of black officeholders, 19.2 percent, is in the North Central U.S., where 19.8 percent of the nation’s black population is located. The Northeast, with 18.5 percent of the total black population, has 10.6 percent of black elected officials, and 5.7 percent of all black elected officials are in the West, where 8.9 percent of all blacks live”

[3] Not unimportantly, the most recent gains for African-Americans politically have been through Black women. And to contextualize Black elected representation more generally, we should note that the rate of increase in Black representation (to Congress) has been decreasing:

And while the last five cycles set a record high for African Americans in the U.S. House – with 198 blacks elected from 2002-2010 – this marks the slowest decade-by-decade increase during this 90-year span.

African Americans won only 10 more seats during the last five cycles (198) than from 1992-2000 (188), or an increase of just 5.3 percent.

By contrast, the number of blacks elected to the U.S. House had increased by 150 percent, 80 percent, 78 percent, 138 percent, 105 percent, 40 percent, and 72 percent over the previous seven decades (from here).

[4] It did not have the highest slave population, however; that honour goes to Virginia.


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